L.P. from Hartford County, Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
We live over someone who has been complaining about the noise level above her. These condos were built in the 1970’s and have very poor insulation. The floors creak horribly. She complained the weekend we moved in. Who does that? We have gone back and forth with letters of her complaining and me explaining that the noise she is complaining about is just us walking on our floors with just socks on. She has 3 boys and sometimes has company which means 4 boys, a man and her and she’s complaining about me and my husband? Really? The last 2 letters she wrote, I did not write back because writing back just doesn’t seem to work. She always says in the letter that she will keep her boys quiet, too. But she doesn’t. They are loud. We were on vacation Thanksgiving week so we stayed up late while they go to bed early. But we were not making excessive noise. We were sitting watching television quietly and then we got up to use the bathroom and my husband went into the kitchen to test his blood which he has to do with diabetes. Do we seriously have to go to bed early because she goes to bed early? She complained about endless pacing and thumping. She complained to the condo management. Without investigating, they sent us a warning and told us any further complaints will result in us being fined. I found some of her letters and even an e-mail from the last tenants that lived above her. I sent them to management so they could hear our side. We have been very respectful of her. Obviously, we make noise, but not excessive noise. They make even more noise. Shouldn’t the management company have investigated a little before they sent us the warning? What else can we do about this? Any ideas? Thank you Mister Condo.
Mister Condo replies:
L.P., thank you for your detailed letter. Your letter highlights one of the greatest challenges for condominium dwellers: the challenge to understand where your rights to peaceable enjoyment end and your neighbor’s rights to peace and quiet begin. You are not alone in this challenge and I do have some ideas on how we can all learn to “just get along”.
First off, neither you nor I can settle what is or isn’t an acceptable amount of noise for you or your neighbor to live with. Suffice it to say that as long as neither of you are breaking any local noise ordinances, the noise that you are making is acceptable. Life is noisy whether we are listening to the radio, watching television, playing video games, having a conversation, or whatever. It is impossible to live and not make noise.
I am sure that you have reviewed your condo’s rules and regulations about acceptable noise levels. If not, review them and make copies for your neighbor and your management company. Ask your management company what specific rules you were violating. If they can’t show you the specific rule, they may retract their warning letter. If they can show you the rule they claim you broke, be sure to document the incident and return the favor to your neighbor at your earliest convenience. If your neighbor wants to play the “let’s call the management company to settle this” game, you need to be armed as well.
As for dealing with your neighbor, there are two things you can do. Ideally, you can sit down and have a rational conversation about the noise. Invite the neighbor over and show her the types of activities you routinely do in your unit and ask her what they sound like downstairs. Noise travels downward, especially in an older building like the one you describe. It’s not your fault that she lives below your unit but it might help for you to understand what she is hearing. If possible, accompany her to her unit and have your husband run to the TV and walk around so you can hear what she hears.
Ideally, your condo Board would suggest renovations to the building that would include noise reduction improvements. That is costly but could ultimately increase the property’s value. New subfloors with noise deadening properties would be a start. Perhaps some throw rugs could help as well.
Neighbor versus neighbor issues are never pleasant in condominiums. We all live is such close proximity to each other it is important that we tolerate each other, even if we don’t become best friends with our neighbors. The only other option is to sell your condo and to move to a place where you’ll have no upstairs / downstairs neighbors. Although side by side noise issues can also be a problem, my experience has taught me that it is easier to tolerate next door noise as opposed to upstairs noise. Wishing you a peaceful 2013, L.P.. Good luck!