When people live in close proximity, as with homeowner association common wall living, lifestyle clashes are more likely. Noise is the most common complaint followed closely by odors, health and sanitation issues, cigarette smoke and curb appeal. The board is challenged from time to time to sort out various nuisances that interfere with a member’s enjoyment of their property. To intervene or not to intervene? That is the question.
Some annoyances are violations of law and should be handled by law enforcement. Among these are domestic disputes, out of control parties, abuse of alcohol and use of illegal drugs should all be directed to law enforcement. These are not situations that neighbors or boards are prepared to deal with and there is a chance attempts to do so could escalate to physical altercations. The complainer should be directed to call the police immediately.
Other annoyances, like a neighbor’s choice or volume of music, house cleaning acumen, hard stepping ways or Marlboros can cause ongoing aggravation that are more appropriate for board intervention.
But these issues may come in several flavors: people, building design driven or a combination of both. People driven issues are more easily dealt with (STOP doing that!!!), but the board’s approach to building design flaws is more problematic.
New construction generally provides for adequate sound barriers, but older properties often don’t. Sound transmission is a very common problem when apartment buildings are converted to condominiums. In older buildings where common walls, floors and ceilings are wood frame construction, there will often be ongoing noise issues to deal with.
Correcting these soundproofing deficiencies is possible but very expensive. Carpet and sound deadening drywall will help but not totally kill the noise. Installation of hardwood and tile floors in upper units will virtually guarantee an ongoing upstairs/downstairs war. The best the board can do is enact bans on hard surface flooring and encourage greater noise sensitivity between neighbors.
For people generated nuisances not better handled by John Law, the board’s involvement is certainly called for. In this, the board is challenged to “balance competing interests” such as the upstairs neighbor’s need to have a trampoline and the downstairs neighbor’s need to sleep. In balancing these interests, the board needs to have an actual chance of reconciling the problem. As one judge put it, “The test of nuisance is not what effects it has on persons of delicate or dainty habits or living, or of fanciful or fastidious tastes, or on persons who are invalids, afflicted with disease, bodily ills, or abnormal physical conditions, or on persons who are of nervous temperament or peculiarly sensitive to annoyance or of disturbance of the character complained”.
In plain English, this means that just because someone is bothered doesn’t automatically make something a nuisance. People living in close quarters are called on for a higher degree of tolerance. But some just can’t adjust. Some folks simply need more space, a wider buffer zone. No degree of board intervention will ever satisfy them short of vacating all adjoining units.
Most long lasting solutions for nuisances are compromises. For example, instead of banning Mr. Trampoline from his passion, maybe he will agree to bounce from 9 am to 7 pm instead of at 3 #$%!! am. When settling the annoyance dust between neighbors, creativity and a lot of humor is called for. The board should deflect those which can be to the combatants or the law, and for those that can’t, ply the waters of compromise.