In a recent British Columbia case, a strata owner was awarded damages for the noise caused by her neighbours’ toddler.
Strata Owner Files Claim Against Strata Corporation Over Noise
A strata owner filed a claim against her strata corporation, claiming that the strata owners in the unit directly above her made excessive noise and the strata corporation had not addressed her noise complaints. She sought an order that the strata enforce its noise bylaw against the neighbours through fines, or by adding soundproofing between the units at its cost. For the loss of enjoyment of her strata lot, the owner sought $4,500 in damages. Her complaints were summarized as follows:
“The most frequent subject of [the owner]’s noise complaints is footsteps from the toddler in unit 406. She also complains about banging sounds she suspects come from the toddler dropping toys on the floor. To a lesser extent, she hears the father’s footsteps as he goes out to the balcony to smoke or vape. She says the noise starts every morning between 5 and 6 a.m., which wakes her up and often prevents her from falling back to sleep. On days the unit 406 parents work, it stops at 8 a.m. She says there is also noise in evenings, every day, when the toddler returns home around 5:30 until the toddler goes to bed around 6:45 p.m. On Saturdays, Wednesdays and sometimes other days, one or more parents stays home with the toddler, so [the owner] hears the noise, off and on, all day unless the tenants leave the unit. In submissions, [the owner] said the toddler was recently waking up as early as 4 a.m. and running back and forth, throwing things or marching in place.”
In response, the strata stated that it had investigated the owner’s complaints but had found the noise from the neighbours’ unit was not unreasonable and did not contravene its bylaws. The strata did not dispute that the owner heard noise from the toddler; instead, it claimed that the noise was reasonable and the owner was overly-sensitive to noise.
Tribunal Awards Damages for Noise
After reviewing the strata’s response to the owner’s complaints, the tribunal first concluded that the strata’s failure to adequately investigate the owner’s noise complaints, its refusal to enter unit 406, and its position that the owner’s legitimate noise complaints were harassment, amounted to conduct that was significantly unfair to the owner.
The tribunal then set out to determine whether the noise complained of was unreasonable or a nuisance. It began by explaining that, in a strata setting, nuisance is defined as an unreasonable continuing or repeated interference with a person’s enjoyment and use of their strata lot. The tribunal noted that such conduct, as well as unreasonable noise of any kind, was also prohibited under the strata’s bylaw. It also observed that the test for whether noise is unreasonable is objective rather than what the owner experiences.
After reviewing the evidence provided by the owner, which included the submission of World Health Organization (WHO) noise guidelines, the tribunal concluded that the owner had endured unreasonable noise that amounted to a repeated interference with her enjoyment and use of her strata lot.
In determining damages, the tribunal noted that the owner had been complaining of the noise for seven months. It then stated:
“I accept that [the owner] has experienced early morning sleep disturbance nearly every day in that period. I also accept that because she works and studies from home, the noise at times disrupts her ability to focus and take calls. [The owner] says she can hear the footsteps even when wearing noise-cancelling headphones, which disrupts her work and schooling. She says when the unit 406 tenants are home, she stays in her den where the noise is quietest. [The owner] says the noise makes her head throb and causes headaches when combined with exhaustion from waking early. She says the noise is inescapable and anxiety-inducing.”
In the result, the tribunal allowed the owner’s claim and awarded damages in the amount of $2,300. It also ordered the strata to hire an acoustical engineer to determine whether any options existed to reduce impact sound between the two units.
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