In a recent National Post article, the journalist Lia Grainger described noise from neighbours and other noise issues that drive tenants and condo owners to the brink.
Lia Grainger notes that the pandemic brought noise issues to the forefront because people spend much more time in their apartments. This agrees with my experience. My clients tell me they notice more noise now because they and their neighbours are always at home.
Legal remedy to noise from neighbours
As a last resort, Lia describes how to address the noise problem legally through mediation, arbitration, or court action. Unfortunately, this is not always easy for tenants or condo owners to do. In my experience, legal firms specializing in condo law are reluctant to take owners as clients. Sometimes this is because of a conflict of interest; they already have the condo corporation as a client. Sometimes the client cannot afford the fees they charge.
How much noise from neighbours is reasonable?
As Lia Grainger points out, noise is subjective. Clients often ask me to “test” noise level to determine if it is acceptable. This is impossible; there is no definition of “acceptable noise level” caused by other people. Even in the buildings with the best sound isolation, you will hear some noises created by people.
In condominium living, reasonable accommodation is required from both sides of the complaint. Sometimes the person complaining about the noise is not reasonable. One of my clients told me she does not want to hear any noise in her expensive apartment. This is impossible. The human ear is extremely sensitive to noise and will detect even the slightest noise, especially if it is otherwise quiet.
Impact noise from neighbours
The most common source of noise from neighbours is impact noise. This is noise, usually from above, but could be from an adjacent apartment, created by walking, dropping objects, or moving furniture. The ability of a building structure to resist this type of noise is described by Impact Insulation Class (IIC). There is no requirement in the Ontario Building Code for any specific level of IIC. However, the recommended minimum level is IIC 55. This is a modest level of sound isolation, not satisfactory to many people.
The only way of determining the IIC in your apartment is to test it. This is an expensive test. Before undertaking it, you need to check if the result, whatever it is, is helpful to you. Strictly speaking, a level of IIC is not enforceable by law, but your condominium corporation may require it. You need to know this before paying for the test.
Reducing Impact Noise
The best way to reduce the impact of noise is to improve the floor above your apartment. However, this requires the cooperation of the neighbour. This is usually difficult to obtain unless requested and enforced by the condominium corporation.
Whether you test for the IIC or not, reducing the noise level by modifying your apartment requires renovation. The ceiling and possibly also the walls will have to be improved. If you are planning this job, you will need an advice of a building acoustics expert. Relying on a free quote from a contractor could be expensive. If, in the end, the renovation does not achieve the desired result, it will be wasted.
Other aspects of condominium noise and noise from neighbours are covered in my other articles:
Condominium Byers, Beware of Noise!
Taming Noise Complaints in Toronto Condominiums
Living with Mechanical Noise in a Condo
Condo Apartment Soundproofing - Is It Feasible?
Living with Noise in Toronto Condos
Intractable Mechanical Noise in a Toronto Condo
Are Your Renovating? Consider Noise Control!
How Much Soundproofing Do I Need?
A Neighbour Complains About Your Piano Playing
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