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Noise Complaints Handling In A Strata Community

How to deal with noise complaints when living in a Strata Community.

Expert Opinion piece – Stephen Raff, CEO of Ace Body Corporate Management.

In my role as founder and CEO of Ace Body Corporate Management over the past 20 years there are three areas of concern from owners that rise above all else when living in a strata community.

June, 2017
By Stephen Raff

These are some of the more common phone exchanges between Strata managers and owners living in strata communities. Today I will be taking a look at noise complaints and explain some of the options available to owner occupiers and tenants.

Parking: “Someone has double parked behind my car and I can’t get out of my property”.

Pets: “The next door neighbour’s cat is left out during the night and is causing trouble”.

Noise: “Unit 27 have decided it is a good time for band practice at 1:00am in the morning”.

Why is noise more of an issue in strata?
Simply put, close proximity living brings people… closer. Pretty obvious right?
It still astounds me the number of owners that communicate to their strata manager that if they were aware of how much noise their neighbours made then they would never have purchased a strata property.

Noise has a knack for travelling through walls, around fences and often directly into the bedroom of a restless sleeper who is left wondering how they are possibly going to get through work tomorrow in their sleep deprived state.

How do I make it stop?
The first option should always be to communicate open and directly with the source of the problem. If your neighbour has suddenly decided to try their hand at carpentry late at night, normally they are not even aware that they have become a nuisance to their neighbours.

The majority of noise complaints can be resolved right at this moment. Be friendly and come prepared with a few alternative options so that all involved can find an agreeable solution. Perhaps the budding carpenter can agree to only use his power tools on Saturday morning when you are already out of the house at tennis practise.

Come to an arrangement that benefits all involved, sometimes you may have to rearrange your schedule slightly to accommodate your neighbour.

Remember it is not always just about you when sharing common property!

So what do you do when the noise is coming from common property such as a leaking pipe or faulty electricity cabling and there is no obvious person to wave your finger at?

Inform a committee member from your strata community immediately and explain the problem in as much detail as possible. The committee member can then consult with the strata manager and check the maintenance records.

Perhaps the pipes or cabling haven’t been regularly maintained and they have now become faulty which is causing the noise. The committee members can then decide to have areas checked or repaired by a tradesperson and hopefully stop the noise in a timely manner.

The forgetful neighbour
So you have very politely gone and spoken to your neighbour about the noise that has been keeping you up at night and they have agreed to keep it down. For the first week it is silent bliss and everything seems great… then to your horror the noise comes back with vengeance and your follow up attempts to silence the noise have fallen on deaf ears.

Speak to your strata committee and have them draft a strongly worded letter outlining how the noise is impacting other residents. Hopefully this resolves the issue, if not an alternative such as dispute resolution may have to be looked at (see below).

Some noise complaints such as babies crying in the middle of the night are very difficult to prevent and unfortunately there is not a great deal that can be done. While the baby is causing noise that is affecting other people, unlike unruly parties or power tools, we can’t limit the time a baby decides to cry for the betterment of other residents.

How can I protect my apartment from noise?
Ear plugs: Sounds simple, but probably the most effective noise cancelling device to a good night’s sleep. They are not practical to wear at all times, but purely for sleep at night, ear plugs are very effective.

Double glazed windows: Windows are most often the weak link for sound entering a property and double glazing does make a considerable difference. This is particularly effective in reducing noise from car traffic. Thick curtains will also create another barrier for the noise and is more effective than blinds.

Plasterboard: Interior walls that have layers of plasterboard with sound control material in the cavity can be very effective in reducing sound. Generally, proper insulation at the time of building will play a big part in noise reduction, so it is important to check the quality of insulation before purchasing.

What do the Rules Say?
Each state and territory in Australia has something in their Strata Act or Regulations regarding noise and other nuisance control. It is important when you are moving into a strata community to understand your strata community’s rules or bylaws, these can be different from property to property so it is important to check your specific rules as they may differ from other properties you own.
Generally, most rules or bylaws in Australia will say something along the lines of ‘An owner or occupier of a lot must not unreasonably create any noise likely to interfere with the peaceful enjoyment of any other person entitled to use the common property’.

What are my other options?
Local Council: Generally, most councils will have a hotline for environmental noise concerns and can be contacted on a 24/7 basis. A noise traffic controller can then be arranged to investigate unacceptable noise and whether there is reasonable grounds for further action. It is important that owners have a detailed record of when the noise has been occurring and they can then provide this information to the relevant local council authority. Owners are encouraged to check with their local council and understand their specific noise complaint procedure.

Police: If there is no other alternative, particularly late at night, the police are the best avenue to having any unruly noise reduced. An on the spot fine can be imposed on anyone who continues to make noise after being directed to stop by an Environmental Protection Authority Officer, the police or a local council official.

Alternative dispute resolution?
The next step, in most Australian states and territories, is to apply to a government run tribunal for help. These authorities make legally binding decisions about how disputes are to be settled. Tribunals are run like mini courts with similar protocols and processes, although not quite as formal. Generally, solicitors are not required and the parties normally argue their case by themselves.

Tribunal rulings include:

• Ordering someone to do something or stop doing something.
• Imposing a financial penalty for breaking a rule.
• Sometimes ordering damages to be paid to the successful party.

Reasonable communication with your neighbour should always be the first option when dealing with a noise complaint, most people can be quite accommodating when spoken to in a nice way!

Ace Body Corporate Management
This article is not intended to be personal advice and you should not rely on it as a substitute for any form of advice.Ace Body Corporate Management offers this newsletter to clients to assist in updating them on company and industry news. The content within this newsletter is of a generic nature and may not be applicable to all owners corporations. Ace Body Corporate Management attempts to provide the most up-to-date and accurate information for our clients, however we strongly recommend that individuals and committees seek further advice before acting on any information in this newsletter.