How to Handle Noise Complaints as an HOA Board Member
As an HOA board member, you'll find yourself needing to deal with some issues--and one of those issues may be noise complaints. Neighbors who believe that they're in the right will quickly bring their complaints before the board, leaving you scrambling to decide how to handle these common issues appropriately. From music played too loud or parties that go on far too long to a barking dog that frequently wakes a neighbor's baby, it's not hard to understand the frustration of the parties involved--but you want to be sure that you're staying within the guidelines of your HOA and helping keep everyone satisfied.
Make the Rules
Noise complaints can range from issues with animals that are too loud to failure to respect quiet hours. One of the most common noise complaints in condos is ripping up flooring: a noisy process that can be incredibly frustrating for the downstairs neighbors. By setting clear rules in place, your HOA can help avoid noise complaints. Consider concerns like:
What steps must members take before undertaking renovations? This is especially important in apartments, where renovations can cause serious inconvenience for other residents in the building.
What types of pets are allowed? When creating HOA rules, one of the primary concerns with pets is the possibility for noise complaints. Not allowing dogs or other large, noisy animals in your units can help decrease the incidence of noise complaints.
Do you need quiet hours in your HOA? Creating a rule that excessive noise can't take place after a certain hour can help make the steps you need to take more explicit.
Bring Parties Together
One of the first steps in resolving noise complaints is bringing the two parties together. Many people struggle with conflict and don't want to engage with the individual who's causing the noise complaints. As a result, the board may hear about the issue long before the individual in question! Even if they have talked in the past, sitting down together with a moderator from the board can help everyone reach a compromise. For example, a homeowner with a noisy dog might choose to keep the dog inside during baby's naptime, or a condominium owner knows their neighbor works night shift might keep their music to a lower level during the day when they're sleeping. In many cases, homeowners will be willing to work together to create a resolution that works for everyone.
When Resolution Can't Be Reached
Sometimes, separate parties involved in noise complaints simply can't reach a resolution that works for both of them. It may be that one party is excessively sensitive to a specific type of noise--and this can be difficult to define since what is truly bothersome for one individual may not impact another at all. In other cases, especially in stacked units with hardwood floors, it may be difficult to impossible for the offending party to decrease the noise in question. A heavy step, children, playing, or simple day-to-day activity may be truly difficult to remove from the equation.
When this happens, it is important to establish clear guidelines that everyone can live with--and to make it clear what "complaints" the board won't be hearing in the future. Carefully consult the HOA rules. If, for example, a noisy animal is making nap time impossible, but the dog owner is unable to bring the animal inside or quiet it during that time of day, there may be no clear resolution--and that may be an issue that both homeowners simply have to live with. If you have no rule against dogs or no quiet hours, for example, it may be time for you to take a step back and point out that no rule prohibits these behaviors.
The HOA board can mediate to a point. When it moves beyond your rules and guidelines and the guidelines of reasonable behavior, however, there is little that you can do about the issue. The HOA should not overstep its bounds by meddling, but rather create a forum through which members can discuss and potentially resolve problems with one another. It's also important to note that the HOA cannot create discriminatory rules against certain populations, including children within the association.
Knowing your responsibilities as an HOA board member can make it easier to handle the complaints that come your way. It is easy to empathize with one party over the other, whether you can entirely understand the individual who is struggling to deal with noise or you're on the side of the individual who wants to carry on with their life without having to worry about every little sound. By understanding the guidelines and laws that govern your association, you can remain impartial while coming to a ruling that will assist everyone in the community.