Q I live in a condo in Edgewater, New Jersey. Lately there have been many owners remodeling their units. While I understand that they have the right to remodel, some have taken as long as five months. That is a lot of time to live with the noise from the contractor’s drilling, banging, and hammering going on the entire time. My question is, can the condominium association limit the amount of time a unit owner takes to remodel his or her unit?
—Noisy in New Jersey
A “Condominium associations often have the right to review and approve major modifications taking place inside the community,” according to Attorney Stuart J. Lieberman, a founding shareholder with the law firm of Lieberman & Blecher, P.C., in Princeton. “For example, if someone is taking down a wall, replacing external doors or windows, or engaging in major renovations, the board often has a right to review the proposed work and to ensure that its rules and bylaws are satisfied. The board must also be reasonable when undertaking this review and cannot make an arbitrary decision. Of course , many renovations also require municipal approval. This may be required when extensive electrical work or plumbing is undertaken or work affecting the structural integrity of the building is proposed. Local approval is completely distinct from an association’s board approval that may be required.
One issue that a board or even a local government may be able to consider in evaluating a project concerns possible annoyance that the project will entail to neighbors, such as our questioner here. While every project causes some inconvenience to neighboring unit owners and must be accepted, there is a point where the annoyance can be excessive and go too far.
“It certainly would not be unreasonable for a board or local reviewing agency to inquire about the length of time that a project will take to complete and the amount of noise or dust that it will create. Along those lines, it would seem to be reasonable to condition approval on completion of a project within a specified time period and other measures, such as specifying days of the week that work may be undertaken, and the hours of the day that work may transpire. Such anti-nuisance requirements may very well be reasonable and appropriate.
“In addition, if the annoyance is truly extreme, a unit owner may contact local enforcement authorities and make a complaint. While not all municipalities are quick to act when these complaints are asserted, if the allegations are bonafide, persistent calls to local officials may pay off. Of course, too many calls may be counterproductive as well.
“Of course there is a final avenue of relief available to people such as the questioner, but it ought to be the very last avenue explored. Persistent annoying conduct by a neighboring property owner may be actionable in court as a private nuisance. But once again, these cases tend to be difficult and costly. So they must be a very last option. They are also divisive, and that must be kept in mind as well.
“Finally, I would be remiss if I were not to add this disclaimer: We all have a right to enjoy our condo units and sometimes that even means acting loudly and being a little annoying. We all have that right and we all must be understanding when this occurs for a short, reasonable time period. It’s the excesses that cause problems.
“So if a neighbor is acting in a bothersome manner for a short period you need to let it be. And if it is going on for too long of a period, one should determine if he might have a discussion with the alleged offender before elevating it. So often these are just communication issues. Any kind of formal elevation should always be a very last resorted-to option.
“Community association living has many many advantages. But it also requires patience and understanding.”