Noise from hard flooring
The issue of noise transference from hard flooring in apartments (like timber and tiles) is a common source of dispute.
Even when an occupier is using their lot for normal daily activities, inadequate soundproofing under their hard floors can have a significant and frustrating impact on adjacent lots.
Most bodies corporate have a by-law restricting noise likely to interfere with others. Also, section 167 of the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997 (the Act) prevents an occupier using or permitting the use of a lot or common property in a way that causes a nuisance or hazard or interferes unreasonably with the use or enjoyment of another lot or common property.
Some bodies corporate have by-laws placing specific restrictions on hard flooring.
As is the case with virtually all body corporate disputes, the very first step is communication.
Don’t, for example, assume that the occupiers of the lot in question are aware of the problem. They may, in fact, be oblivious to the noise they are causing (directly or indirectly).
So as a first step, look for ways to informally and non-confrontationally bring up the matter with the occupiers of the lot in question.
It might be there are some quite specific actions or times of day in which the problem is worse. If so, then there might be something quite practical the occupiers of the lot in question can do to reduce the impact of noise transference.
The body corporate could also consider communicating to all occupiers of the scheme their obligations regarding noise. Reminders of this type might go some way to ensuring that all occupiers of lots retain awareness of the impact of noise transference on other lots.
Beyond this, there are a range of practical actions that can looked at, including:
- floor rugs and carpets, with insulated backing, in high traffic areas;
- felt pads under furniture legs;
- soft closers on cupboard doors;
- removing shoes when inside the apartment, or at the least, trying to be more conscious about not wearing stilettos or other shoes with significant heels; and
- minimising noisy activities, such as keeping the volume on televisions and stereos as low as possible and avoiding loud games.
Occupiers who experience noise transference could also investigate whether there is any scope to install sound insulation on their side of the floor, ceiling or wall.
The Australian Government, as part of its information on environmentally sustainable homes, provides a range of information about noise, including what activities might result in different noise levels as well as information about building design to mitigate noise transference, at http://www.yourhome.gov.au/housing/noise-control.
It is crucial that any lot owner who is considering replacing their flooring should firstly check their by-laws to verify what is and is not appropriate for their scheme.
If a problem about noise transference cannot be resolved by any of the means outlined above, this may result in a dispute for the purposes of the Act and a subsequent dispute resolution application to my Office.
Conciliation will be the first step in the vast majority of applications and then, if a resolution cannot be achieved by conciliation, an application for adjudication may be the result.
There are a range of factors that adjudicators will consider in a dispute about noise arising from hard flooring. For some examples of how adjudicators have previously considered such disputes, you might like to read the following adjudicator’s orders:
This is by no means an exhaustive list of such orders.
In noise disputes, a report by an appropriately qualified acoustic engineer is usually considered necessary.
The Building Code of Australia (BCA) establishes a minimum standard regarding noise transference between lots. The BCA criteria have been consistently held by adjudicators as an appropriate guide to the level of noise transference that is objectively reasonable. Further information is available at http://www.abcb.gov.au/.
Of course, adjudicators will consider whether any specific by-law requirements regarding hard floors were complied with and whether the complainants have followed the preliminary procedures for disputes about by-law issues.
If an adjudicator finds unreasonable noise transference, they may require the lot owner to replace the hard floors with carpet or install greater levels of sound insulation under the floor.