No two people run on exactly the same schedule, even in the same household. Homeowners in your community begin and end their days at different times, and this can sometimes cause conflict concerning noise in the community.
A doctor used to early shifts may start mowing his lawn at 6:30 a.m. to beat the summer heat, while a security officer may just be going to bed after a long night shift. Then there are small children being tucked in for naps in the afternoon, college students staying up late to study for midterms, and new parents trying to get a couple hours’ sleep before the baby wakes up again.
So, what should the association do when homeowners come to the board with noise complaints? In this article, we discuss the process the association can follow to identify community rules for noise nuisances, make them more specific, if necessary, and enforce them fairly.
Review the Governing Documents
Before enforcing any rules to regulate noise nuisances in your community, you must first understand the existing local ordinances concerning noise and any rules in your association’s governing documents.
The association is only able to enforce rules included in the governing documents. So, if noise nuisances are not mentioned, or if the restrictions regarding noise nuisances are vague, then noise cannot be regulated fairly and effectively.
For instance, if noise is restricted by your association’s governing documents, but the governing documents do not list what level of sound is too high and at what times the community must be quiet, there is no measurable way to objectively prove that a noise is too loud to ensure enforcement is fair across the entire community.
However, if the rule is specific and measurable, it can be enforced fairly. For instance, stating that “Noise over 80 decibels is prohibited between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.” is enforceable while “Loud noises are prohibited during nighttime hours.” is not because it leaves too much room for interpretation. When are nighttime hours? What is considered a loud noise?
Create a Noise Nuisance Policy
If your governing documents do not include a clear rule concerning noise nuisances, however, all is not lost. The board can create and approve a noise nuisance policy. A policy will provide the specifics that are not included in the governing documents, without contradicting them.
To assist the board in this endeavor, a temporary committee can be created to perform research and provide suggestions. For instance, the committee could research the safety of different noise levels and survey community members for their preferences for quiet hours in the community and then provide this information to the board.
Whether the board utilizes a committee or not, they should still have the association’s attorney help draft the noise nuisance policy to ensure it will be enforceable.
Educate on Noise Pollution & Its Effects
Once the association has its noise nuisance rules in place, the next step is to share the rules with the community and educate them on the problem of noise pollution, so they see the importance of following the noise restrictions.
Beyond the risk of hearing loss for both children and adults, noise pollution has been linked to higher stress levels, higher blood pressure, and loss of sleep. You can learn more about the negative effects of noise pollution from these articles by the National Geographic Society and Medical News Today.
Provide Guidance for Resolving Neighbor Disputes
While your association may have an enforceable noise nuisance policy, the most effective way for a homeowner to resolve a noise nuisance is to discuss the issue with their neighbor. This is because it is harder to prove a noise violation than, say, a weed violation or garbage bin violation. Additionally, neighbors must still live nearby after a noise dispute is resolved, so it is better to stay on friendly terms than to create dissonance by reporting violations, if possible.
To help promote a friendly neighborhood atmosphere, the board can send general reminders on how neighbors can handle disputes, such as:
- making the request in a kind and courteous manner;
- asking for the noise to be turned down, not turned off completely;
- ensuring the request is in line with the community’s noise nuisance rules; and
- providing a reason why you need the noise turned down.
So, for instance, a homeowner shouldn’t request that a noise be turned down if it doesn’t exceed the noise limits for that time of day, and they should frame their request courteously.
Set the Example
As community leaders, board and committee members should set the example when it comes to following association rules. So, board and committee members should be aware of noise levels and time of day when hosting parties and events at home, when playing music, completing yardwork, or engaging in any other potentially noisy activities.
Lastly, the association should take measures to ensure that it enforces the noise nuisance policy fairly. Purchasing a decibel meter to accurately measure noise levels before sending violation notices is one way the association can help ensure fair enforcement. No preferential treatment should be given to some homeowners over others; however, the HOA should be prepared to make allowances for certain situations, such as medical emergencies and New Year’s Eve celebration countdowns.
In sum, an effective strategy to reduce noise in your community is a specific and measurable noise nuisance policy paired with fair enforcement and the education of the membership on noise pollution and conflict resolution.
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