Handling loud condo neighbors who refuse to turn the music down and respect condo rules can be difficult. Here are a few steps you may want to consider before seeking legal action.
Q: I am a condo owner in a four-unit building in Washington, DC. I believe my fellow condo owners are refusing to enforce rules against excessive noise and nuisances and I’d like to consider legal action. How should I proceed?
A: Well, given that you are in a four-unit building, what you are really dealing with is a dispute between neighbors. In a building of that size, every owner usually sits on the condominium board and does something in the administration of the building. So, when you say that the condo owners are refusing to enforce rules, your complaint is against your neighbor or neighbors whether or not you had a condominium association.
Unlike a 100-unit condominium association (or any large professionally managed association), you probably don’t have a management company or board of directors that can address homeowners’ complaints. And because you and your neighbors obviously live in close proximity to each other (perhaps each of you sharing walls, floors and ceilings with each other, your situation requires a bit more delicate work. You’re basically dealing with your neighbors and whatever the outcome of this situation, you’ll have to continue to deal with those neighbors for most things that have to do with your home as well as the common elements of the property.
While you can always talk to an attorney, we’d prefer to see you handle this situation more personally. Have you tried talking to the neighbor that is causing the noise issue? Have you talked to the other neighbors about the issue? Does everyone feel the same way or are you all alone in this? Can you work together to figure out a solution that is palatable to everyone?
If you’ve exhausted all solutions on the noise issue and other nuisances that you didn’t describe but that we assume are present, then you’ll have to decide whether your only alternative is to seek legal counsel.
But trying to force the association to “enforce” the rules may be a difficult thing to do. It’ll also be expensive. If you hire an attorney, you’ll pay your attorney’s fees as well as your share of the opposing counsel’s fees incurred by the association. As an owner in the building, you will share in all of those expenses.
Sam has received many calls from clients over the years about noise and smoke issues. (Neighbor issues are some of the most contentious, but fights over trees that sit on or near property lines can also be a battle.) To most clients, he suggests figuring out inexpensive ways (where possible) to minimize the noise issues and lessen the effects of other people’s smoking habits. In some instances, owners were able to make minor modifications to their units that reduced noise intrusion. In the case of smoke, caulking outlets and other areas between units helps.
There have been times that the neighbors causing the problem have also tried to do something in their own units and between those actions and the actions of the complaining neighbor, they were able to resolve the situation without litigation. At the other extreme, Sam has had clients decide to sell their home rather than live with a bad neighbor situation.
You’ll have to decide whether the problem can be solved amicably, what solutions may exist, what the cost is for those solutions, what your legal alternatives may be, and what the cost of those legal alternatives might be.
Finally, you should calculate how difficult it will be to live with the ongoing stress and inevitable change in the relationship between you and your neighbors. That may be the highest cost of all – and one too dear to bear, in which case you should consider moving.