How Loud is Too Loud
In Your Condominium?
Last month I attended the Aerosmith concert at the BB&T Center. I left with my ears ringing. My husband, however, wasn’t fazed at all by the noise. It made me think about how often noise complaints have arisen in community associations and the best ways to address those complaints. Most governing documents contain a general nuisance clause. Florida common law also defines which activities rise to the level of a general nuisance. Generally, disturbing a member’s peaceful and quiet enjoyment of their property constitutes an actionable nuisance. Some noise issues are related to hard surfaces being installed without proper soundproofing and in areas that require noise absorbent material in order to safeguard the neighbors below. When that occurs, even normal daily activities resonate with more force than normal. Other times, the source of the problem is a resident’s unwillingness to moderate the decibel level of their television, radio or other device. Some noise issues arise from pets left alone during the day, domestic disputes, excessive partying and, occasionally, the racket is designed specifically to irritate a neighbor.
Sometimes, noise issues can and should be resolved between neighbors without bringing the association into the equation. When an owner contacts the association about a nuisance generated by noise, the association’s first response should be to undertake some due diligence to determine the source and decibel level of the noise and whether surrounding neighbors are similarly impacted. Noice issues become more complicated when the person complaining is more sensitive to noise than the average resident.
Naturally, local ordinances on noise can be consulted to determine whether the noise in question violates municipal or county regulations, but even this avenue has become more complicated recently with the December 13, 2012, ruling by the Florida Supreme Court in the State of Florida v. Richard T. Catalano case. The Florida Supreme Court struck down a 2005 Florida law which allowed drivers who blast their car stereos to be ticketed or have their cars impounded when such sound systems were “plainly audible” from 25 feet away. The Florida Supreme Court, however, held that the state law was overbroad and unreasonably restricted free speech. Since the local ordinances may just have become less effective at controlling noise in private residential communities, it is more important than ever that boards, managers and association counsel discuss what can be done in terms of noise control.
Donna DiMaggio Berger, Esq. is one of the Founding Partners of the statewide law firm Katzman Garfinkel & Berger (KG&B), a firm that devotes its practice to the representation of community associations. Ms. Berger can be reached directly at 954-315-0372 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.