Put neighbor's pesky piano playing to bed

Tips on filing nuisance lawsuit in small claims court

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 11, 2011

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Tips on filing nuisance lawsuit in small claims court

Robert Griswold
Inman News™

Q: I own a condominium unit in a homeowners association (HOA). I have lived there peacefully and quietly for almost four years until a new family began renting next door. The mother and her six kids have placed a piano right against the common wall, which is between her unit and my master bedroom. It seems like they play the piano seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. with virtually no breaks! The sound from the piano is so loud that I cannot sleep before 10 p.m., nor can I read a book or watch TV in the bedroom.

I have tried to reason with her and ask her to move the piano to another location inside her condo, and even offered to help move the piano. Additionally, I suggested a professional soundproofing material to drape the back of piano so it doesn't touch the wall. She ignored me and said she has the right to play the piano as much as she wants during the HOA's "non-quiet" hours, which are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

I talked to the HOA property manager as well as the management company that rented to this family next door. They both sympathize and agree that having the piano violates my rights for a "reasonable peace and quiet." However, they have not been able to solve the problem.

The HOA manager says that there are no rules against pianos or any musical instruments and the only way that they can cite the owner of the unit next door for the behavior of their tenant is if there is a specific rule being violated.

He said he can try one more thing. He would be willing to see if all of the homeowners would vote to support a change in the HOA governing documents to specifically have rules against putting any musical device next to a wall that would cause a disturbance. But he said this is going to take a long time to materialize and only if there are enough votes to achieve a two-thirds majority in favor of the change.

The HOA manager did write a strong letter to the tenant asking her to move the piano, but still she refuses. The tenant claims there is no local or state law that says she cannot put a piano where she wants to, and existing law on noise disturbance does not cover noise from a piano.

The HOA manager is now dumbfounded that the neighbor does not want to comply with even his request, but he claims that he cannot remove the person from the property, as she is in the middle of a valid lease.

I have checked my local city ordinance and it states the following:

"[8-1.2.h] Noise disturbance shall mean any sound which annoys or disturbs a reasonable person of normal sensitivity. The factors which may be considered in determining whether a noise disturbance exists shall include, but not be limited to the following:

"1. The relative sound level of the objectionable noise to the ambient noise.

"2. The proximity of the objectionable noise to residential sleeping facilities.

"3. The day of the week and time of day or night the objectionable noise occurs.

"4. The duration of the objectionable noise and its nature.

"5. Whether the objectionable noise is continuous, recurrent or intermittent."

So armed with this information, I called the local law enforcement but they refuse to come because they said they don't deal with such situations. I am at my wits' end and was hoping you could offer some suggestions. Help!"

A: I think you have a very legitimate claim against the HOA, the owner of the neighboring unit and the tenant.

I think your first step as the owner of a unit within the homeowners association is to pull out that copy of your governing documents that you received when you bought your unit several years ago.

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