Monday, August 23, 2010

Upstairs, Downstairs

Strategies for Dealing with Condo Noise Disputes

By Paul W. Windust, Esq.

Noise disputes among owners can be one of the most troublesome problems community associations and their managers face. Not only can they be expensive to resolve, they can cause community unrest and bad feelings. However, if a community association acts quickly and assertively, it may be able to diffuse the dispute, or at least keep the association out of court.

Noise issues often involve a downstairs owner’s complaints of noise coming from the unit above. This frequently involves floor coverings, or the lack of them. The typical dispute has a common set of facts. An upstairs unit owner decides to upgrade by removing existing carpeting and installing hardwood or some other hard-surface flooring in its place. This upgrade occurs without application or notice to the architectural control committee. The first time the board becomes aware of the problem is when a complaint is made by the owner of the unit below. The usual complaints include increased noise from the upper unit--walking, voices, music, or television sounds.

Not all noise complaints relate to floor coverings. Some buildings lack sufficient soundproofing between adjacent units allowing greater than normal sound transmission. Floor structures can lack sufficient rigidity, causing them to “creak” or “groan” when walked on. But the vast majority of such claims come from a downstairs unit owner reporting elevated noise levels after an upgrade to hard-surface floors. Floor coverings are part of a unit owner’s separate interest. They are not common area and the association will not usually have direct responsibility for their performance as it would with a defective structural element, for example. However, the governing documents may include floor covering provisions as part of the architectural guidelines that the association is charged to enforce. Also, the association can be responsible under the governing documents for abating a “nuisance” regardless of whether the nuisance involves a separate or common interest.

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Editor's note: Paul Windust is a Partner at Berding|Weil. He advises community associations on legal issues and litigation.

Hello Mr Berding,

I'm writing this email to you as a call for help with advice. I read your article on dealing with condo noise complaints. I find myself in a problem with some new neighbors who live below me. They are using their condo like a music studio and I'm noticing the music is on all day long even while I'm probably at work in the daytime. I may have made the mistake by showing my disapproval one night with a baseball bat to my floor and i made it very clear i was trying to sleep , at that time it was around 1am. They lowered it but i could still hear a faint bass, of course when i woke up i could still hear it if i pay close attention to it. So here i am a week later and i find myself stuck in a condo that used to be nice and quiet after the last 6 years Ive been here. My building isn't the best of places, it may also have a bad reputation. I live in Bridgeport,CT. What do you suggest for me. My parents are owners of my condo and i pay the mortgage and common charges, when my credit gets better they can turn over the condo to me. I hear so many negative things about the condo board(association) and i know sometimes the police wants nothing to do with it. This problem started just 7 days ago and i feel like I'm going to erupt. Ive been going to the gym to keep my blood pressure from getting high. By your article, you seem to understand my situation, "noise is in the ear of the beholder". I know its not just me but i can see how no one will understand. Thank you.

Paul A

As the article states, noise issues are very pervasive in condo living, and are sometimes the most difficult problem to solve. First, I'm not a Connecticut attorney, so if this continues, I advise you to seek the counsel of an attorney in Bridgeport who specializes in condominium law. Your local chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI) can help with a referral. 
Condominiums are not usually built with noise problems in mind. Their structure is not much different than an apartment house, in fact, your building may have started life that way. So when you live under or over someone else in a condominium, the chances of your daily activities being heard by your neighbors is pretty likely when it is above normal volume. 
Having said that, no one is permitted to become a "nuisance" to anyone else. What qualifies as a nuisance is defined in each state's law, but most states have provisions against nuisances and permit an owner to apply to the police or the local courts to abate (end) the nuisance. In most states, high levels of noise for extended periods usually qualifies as a nuisance. Again, consult with a local attorney on the best avenue for assistance.
Your community association governing documents (CC&Rs, Bylaws, etc) probably have some provisions relating to nuisances, but whether they require the association to act upon it depends on the documents. The governing documents may also provide a separate basis for abating the nuisance which you can enforce yourself. If you consult a Bridgeport attorney specializing in community association law, he or she can review those documents and advise you on your rights and enforcement options.


  1. Informative article. Another tip when you buy your condo- ensure that it is soundproofed with something as effective as QuietRock! You don’t want to face issues with noisy neighbors after moving in, do you?