When a person chooses to purchase a home in a multi-family community, they must be prepared to give up privacy rights that they would otherwise enjoy living in a single-family residential home. This is especially true in an apartment building or attached residence where there are common walls, floors and/or ceilings separating each home.
Most planned communities (condominiums and HOAs alike) establish rules to address potential noise or odor nuisances that are prevalent in these types of living situations. The most typical complaint is noise disturbance. Many communities have provisions in their by-laws or rules that require owners to respect the quiet enjoyment of their neighbors, for example, by limiting the hours for unit repairs, or playing of musical equipment, etc. There are even some community documents which require a certain percentage of the floor to be covered in carpeting to minimize noise disturbances. While these provisions are meant to deter noise violations, they do not typically guarantee a solution to the problems.
Many community documents authorize the board to either fine or bring a legal proceeding to abate a violation of the by-laws and/or rules and regulations. The problem with fining is that most people ignore them and permit them to just amass on their accounts. Unless the board is prepared to sue to collect the fines resulting in an accrual of attorneys’ fees, fining is powerless. For the same reason, the authority to bring a legal proceeding is not likely to stop the nuisance either. Few, if any of the by-law provisions that afford the board the right to bring an action to abate a rule violation, also contains the right to recover legal fees in such action. Without the express authority to recover legal fees in the governing documents or in a statute, they are unlikely to be recovered. As a result, boards are not as anxious to bring actions on behalf of less than all of the other unit owners, because it would be forced to incur legal fees that would ultimately be paid by all of the unit owners and not just the offender or complainant.
To avoid having an owner vs. owner dispute turn into a costly endeavor for the community overall, we recommend that owners be advised to seek independent legal recourse whether through their own appointed attorney or on their own, to resolve these types of issues.