Condo Smarts: Noise complaints on rise as people stay home during pandemic

Dear Tony: With so many people at home now, we have an increasing number of noise-related complaints. In our mid-sized Nanaimo apartment building constructed of wood, normal sounds like washing machines, flushing toilets, cabinets closing and people walking around are on the increase.

Our council has asked all residents to be tolerant, talk to each other to resolve concerns and try to reduce their impact on their neighbours. We have a few owners who have taken the position that they will do what they want in their homes, and for the most part, that has not been a problem, as they reside on the ground floor.

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But we have a 4th-floor owner who has decided it’s her right to play piano at 3 a.m. when she can’t sleep, or vacuum and do laundry.

At what point does the strata council have to intervene? We have had complaints from two of the units below her, but as a council, we are also trying to exercise some tolerance around bylaw enforcement. The council would appreciate some guidelines.

Gillian R., Nanaimo

The first rule of strata living is: “your home is not your castle.” Everyone who resides in a strata property, whether it’s a duplex, high rise, bare land or townhouse complex, must comply with the bylaws and rules of the strata corporation.

Likewise, every strata council member must enforce bylaws. That does not necessarily involve fines or penalties, but it does require a proactive effort to address credible complaints.

Under the Standard Bylaws of the Strata Property Act, which have been adopted in principle by most strata corporations, an owner, tenant or occupant must not cause a nuisance that interferes with the use and enjoyment of common property or another strata lot.

Nuisance comes in many forms, including noise, smoke from cigarettes or barbecues, obstructing access to a strata lot or common property, or excessive cooking odours or other smells that affect other occupants.

The complainant reports the extent and frequency of the nuisance, the strata council investigates to determine if the complaint is credible and the council informs the offending party of the complaint. The offending party can then respond in writing or request a council hearing where the matter could be resolved, further investigation could be required or penalties could be imposed.

If an offending party is unwilling to resolve the situation, the strata council can ask the Civil Resolution Tribunal for a decision ordering the offending party to comply with the bylaws and pay any penalties.

What happens when a strata council refuses to take a complaint seriously and enforce the bylaws? In a recent tribunal decision, a strata council was ordered to pay $2,000 in damages to an owner who had been complaining about excessive noise. The complaints had been frequent, and the affected owner experienced significant disruption to sleep and use of her strata lot.

Strata councils must address complaints by occupants affected by the nuisance behaviour of their neighbours. If not, any owner or tenant can seek a decision of the tribunal ordering the strata corporation to enforce bylaws and pay damages.

For occupants exposed to chronic nuisance, it is essential that you document and report every incident. With so many of us now working and living largely from our homes, noise is on the increase. If you are in a situation where there are ongoing problems, evaluate whether the actions disrupt use of your strata lot or affect your ability to use the strata lot or common property in a reasonable manner.

Tony Gioventu is executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association

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