A (Real Life) Sad Commentary on Noise Issues in a Condo

Here is a story I received from a reader. The person asked that I publish the story but withhold the name because this is ongoing situation. The saddest thing is that this kind of problem rather common. Changing carpeted floors out to wood or hard surface flooring on upstairs units, or paying extra to a developer for upgraded hardwood floors in your condo can ruin your neighbor’s life … and yours … if they fight back.


At the least I can suggest that anyone thinks really hard before assuming that upgrading to hardwood flooring will really increase the value of a unit, or buying an upstairs unit that has hard surface flooring is a “sure thing”. Hard floor covering in an upstairs unit could bring on a living H _ _L. Any extra money made on a sale could be eaten up with legal fees. The benefit gained could be fleeting. You may find yourself in a real bind after making a large investment to upgrade, or paying extra for the “look”, because it could open up a real can of worms that leads to a large expense in hiring an attorney and/or having to restore certain areas to bring back the carpet and padding.


My disclaimer: Here is the story; please note that it is the personal story of the person affected, not one of my clients who came to me with a noise issue. It is their words, their dilemma, and their frustration, and hopefully in the end, they will get some kind of relief from the difficult situation. I shall not comment on the legality of any of the actions undergone, or suggested, because I have not reviewed any documents to determine what is legal and authorized and what is not.They had a reason for wanting to share the experience, and that is hoping that their story might lead to legislative reform or stronger enforcement of nuisance laws.


“- I tried to comment on the page discussing, “FAILURE TO DISCLOSE NOISE OR OTHER PROBLEMS WHEN SELLING YOUR CONDO” but didn’t have any luck.  I feel my experience in sharing my story is well worth the time for others so that HOA condo homeowners will help change our current laws. 


We are a small condo complex – 6 main level units and 6 upper units.  A past president and current board treasurer changed their 2nd level flooring – the reasons were to make their unit more marketable and sell their units for top dollar”.  Our Covenants say specifically that it’s to be carpet and pad only.   Of course other upper units said that if they can get away with it, so should they, so we now have 4 of 6 in violation.   I filed a small court claim which is what anyone MUST do before the 1 year statutes of limitations is up (check state laws to verify its statutes).  I also had the Board have our HOA attorney file a Notice of NonCompliance with the City and County to be on record should the unit be listed for sale.  The Notice will come up when the Title Company does its research to release the title.  The money to rectify the problem is to go into escrow;  from there it’s up to either the owner or buyer to come into compliance.  


I was told that our HOA’s insurance attorney was going to be that I filed the law suit outside the 1 year statute (I believe the 1 year statute was for the Board to do something, not for my suit.  Next thing to research.) and I decided to negotiate last minute now that I had their attention.  The HOA’s insurance attorney asked for a court order to file the resolution in order to make sure the Board finds a solution, but better yet, the judge said she wants to see us back in court to verify it’s taken care of.   I also filed a 2nd small court claim, suing the Board for not upholding our Declarations and included the Board Treasurer in violation.  The judge was aware of it as it was mentioned the 2nd suit.  By doing this, my goal was to inform the Court to be aware of the reasons why the Board hasn’t been able to or won’t uphold the laws that were put in place to protect each homeowner.


The other thing to do is to write letter after letter (certified, return receipt;  email good too but send at least one via USPS) to the Board to file a Cease & Desist Letter to the person in violation.  Both the Notice of NonCompliance and C&D will be recorded and will basically force the Board to follow the Declarations, regardless of your issue. 


As your article said, don’t think that just because the current owner is quiet, the next one will be as considerate.  In my case, the new owner’s girlfriend bought a puppy (chased it back and forth relentlessly), drug chairs across the floor and dropped what sounded like the silverware drawer onto the floor, walked in high heels, etc., when he wasn’t there.  Then  prior to selling, he installed vinyl over porcelain tile. Trust me, vinyl doesn’t do anything more than a layer of Saran Wrap.  The hard surface needs to be removed.


It is indeed a sad commentary on human behavior, especially from an association officer who has touted ethics, values and respect.  Guess the officer means it only applies to others.


[Last but not least] the architects and licenses acoustical engineers I’ve consulted have told me that the only way to find the relief that carpet and pad would provide is to remove my ceilings and install a channel system to the tune of $80,000 (average bid).   Paying for it myself is out of the question.


Thank you for your time and thank you for your blog – its’ been a wealth of information.”


Think about the choices. $80,000 to reconstruct the ceiling of the unit vs. paying an attorney to seek a court order to force the upstairs owner to restore their unit carpeting and padding.  Whichever end of the dispute you are on could get prickly.

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2 Responses to A (Real Life) Sad Commentary on Noise Issues in a Condo
  1. Doug
    January 22, 2014 | 1:51 am

    I’m also having a very frustrating time dealing with my HOA regarding what is interpreted as noise and nuisances. I currently rent a top floor condo unit to a small family of three. Father, mother, and 2 year old daughter. My prior tenants were a younger couple with no children and spent little time in the unit. Anyway, noise complaints started to come in from the HOA and directly from the unit downstairs complaining. The complaints are allegedly about being able to hear them or their child walking or crawling around the unit. But I can’t say for sure because the HOA has refused to send me a copy of the complaints they have fielded from that downstairs unit and the complaints I have received directly from that downstairs neighbor never specified the nature of the noise complaints other than maybe mentioning they could hear my tenants walking around.
    To give some background my unit has floating laminate floors but I paid extra to have the contractor install thicker noise dampening underlayment. But I believe the downstairs unit is very noise sensitive and because one of them sits on the HOA board, the HOA wasted no time sending me violation notices via email threatening me with fines if I did not stop the noise. But how could I tell my tenants to walk less, stop their kid from walking or running around the condo? Bear in mind that both my tenants and I have done as much as we could to reduce floor noise by putting down area rugs and floor runners with padding. Now the HOA is requiring me to attend a hearing to discuss these noise violations even though we have been discussing it back and forth for the past month via email. Also, when I asked for copies of the actual complaints, I have been stonewalled. They finally replied yesterday that they would give me the copies right before the hearing. How is that even fair? I can’t possibly review and prepare a defense in a few minutes prior to the hearing.
    As for my flooring, I had it installed roughly six years ago when the unit was purchased and no longer have the invoice so that complicates things. And I’ve tried to get ahold of the contractor to no avail.
    I’m at my wits end here because they don’t have any proof that the noise coming from my unit are excessive and unnecessary. But somehow they’re still threatening me with fines with no evidence it seems. Not sure how to proceed at this point.

    • Beth Grimm
      April 24, 2014 | 5:35 pm

      This is a perfect example of how hard surface or laminate floors might be fine in one instance, and horribly noisy in another, just by changing residents. And yes, going from a quiet single or couple to a full fledged family with a dog with toenails can change everything. What can I say, noise transmission is a huge problem in stacked condos and especially conversions. Am working on about 15 cases right now, trying to find solutions for people. The law and litigation does not solve these kinds of issues – it just (literally) drains the participants and the coffers, unless the parties can work out compromises. Someone with hardwood flooring may have to offer padding to stop the clacking. Someone underneath may need to add white noise. There are many possible solutions if the parties are willing to talk, but all too often they just fight.