Q. I have written several complaint letters to the condo board and the managing agent regarding a noisy neighbor. They did send a letter to the owner about a year ago, but the problem persists. Although I continue to write letters, nothing is being done. What is my recourse? Do I file against the board for not acting on my behalf?
—-Driving Me Crazy
A. “A neighbor who is oblivious to the rights and concerns of others in their community is frustrating,” said Elizabeth Casey, an attorney based in Ocean City who specializes in condominium law. “Having a board that appears tone-deaf to your complaints can magnify that frustration. Your question doesn’t specify the source of the noise, so I’m going to assume it is more than your neighbor simply living in the unit: chairs moving, children playing, the occasional barking dog, etc.
“Normally, I would recommend that you approach your neighbor first. Sometimes people are unaware that their conduct is annoying to others. Often a simple “neighborly” conversation can remedy the situation. In this instance, you’ve indicated that you already approached the board and they reached out to the noisy neighbor with no reduction in the noise level. Therefore, I think you can approach this issue in the two-step process outlined below.
1. Association Remedies:
“New Jersey condo associations and HOAs are required to provide some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) as a method to resolve disputes between individual unit owners and the association and between owners as an alternative to litigation. (N.J.S.A. 46:8B-14(k) and N.J.S.A. 45:22A-44(c)). ADR may take the form of mediation, arbitration, or a hearing. Regardless of the procedure, the goal is to resolve the issue.
“You should make a written request to your board for ADR. Your association’s governing documents should outline the proper procedure for initiating ADR. Even if the board hasn’t adopted an ADR policy, request ADR. Some older associations don’t have an ADR policy in place, and your request will prompt your board to adopt an ADR policy that you can then utilize.
“Assuming there is a violation of your association’s rules and regulations, your ADR request will focus on the board’s failure to enforce the rules and regulations. Within the association, your board is explicitly empowered to enforce the rules and regulations. Moreover, the board usually has the power to levy fines if the noisy neighbor doesn’t comply with the association rules. You want the board to do its job, and your request for ADR may motivate a board disinclined to exercise its enforcement powers.
“If your noisy neighbor isn’t violating specific association rules and regulations, your ADR request will focus on your neighbor. Through the ADR procedures adopted by your association, it is possible that you and your neighbor may arrive at a mutually acceptable schedule for “quiet hours.”
2. Nuisance Ordinance
“If alternative dispute resolution fails and your neighbor is sufficiently noisy, you may want to reach out to your local police. Many municipalities in New Jersey have nuisance ordinances, which address noise. I would only pursue this option if my attempts to resolve this issue through the association fail. When everything is said and done, your noisy neighbor is still a neighbor.”