Q&A: I Can’t Hear You

Q. Our downstairs neighbor’s children always have the TV turned to an extremely loud volume. Our condominium building is older without a lot of soundproofing, and literally, everything can be heard from below. We have tried a number of times to resolve the issue peacefully and have spoken to the couple to have them turn the television down, which they always do but alas, the problem still continues. Our bylaws aren’t at all specific as to what rules apply except that any noise must be “reasonable” and cannot occur between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. The noise is outside of those hours but it is truly disruptive to us. We are not sure what to do next. What recourse do we have? What can we do?  

—Going Deaf 

A.  “There are several approaches to a noise problem like the one that you report,” says attorney Alan Lipkind, a partner at the law firm of Burns & Levinson LLP in Boston, MA. “Contacting the neighbor directly to communicate your concerns was absolutely the correct initial approach. 

“Prompt communication of a noise concern allows neighbors to modify their behavior while minimizing harm to the relationship between neighbors. In addition to keeping the volume of the television low, there is the possibility that moving the TV to a different room might eliminate the problem. A more costly but possibly more effective solution could be the installation of insulation in the ceiling between the two units to lessen the transmission of sound. Before installing insulation, you likely would need permission from the condominium association or organization of unit owners, as the space between your floor and your neighbor’s ceiling is likely common area and not part of a unit. The bottom line is that prompt and direct communication between unit owners involved in a dispute enhances the possibility of reaching a solution that satisfies all parties. It also avoids the costs and unpleasantness that may result from delay and the pursuit of more formal efforts.  

 “You should be aware that in many jurisdictions, there is a legal doctrine called private nuisance, which means that one may not use his or her property in a way, which unreasonably impacts property owned by another. The conduct that you are describing may very well constitute a private nuisance. The typical remedy for a private nuisance is an abatement of the nuisance, i.e., a court order barring the offensive behavior in the future. I do not, however, recommend that you proceed to court yet. Many courts are reluctant to get involved in a dispute of this nature unless one can demonstrate that the conduct at issue is truly unreasonable and that one has done everything possible to attempt to resolve the issue. Accordingly, the next step that you should consider is a letter from you or an attorney to your neighbors. This will let your neighbors know how serious this matter is to you. It will also document the problematic conduct and your attempt to reasonably resolve the problem. Hopefully that will take care of the issue. If not, then you should consider consulting legal counsel regarding whether to pursue legal action.  

 “A second potential source of relief for your situation would be through the organization of unit owners of your condominium. If the conduct at issue violates the master deed, bylaws or rules and regulations, the organization of unit owners likely has the power to enforce compliance with those documents. The organization of unit owners may have a variety of options open to it from a simple request to the offending owner to the imposition of fines, to seeking an injunction to stop the offensive behavior. Accordingly, if your downstairs neighbor is violating the governing documents of the condominium, you should consider asking the organization of unit owners to enforce those condominium documents. 

“A third source of relief for you may be a municipal noise ordinance in your municipality. If there is such an ordinance that is applicable, the local code enforcement official may be of assistance. Contact your local code enforcement official to learn more.”          

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