Before I installed my floors, my contractor spoke with a board member. They were fine with me moving forward and they made sure I knew the rules regarding hardwood floors. We spent quite a bit of money installing an underlayment under the wood flooring due to noise concerns. One of my neighbors and a board member interprets the rules as allowing the hardwood floors and rugs, with the rugs covering over 50 percent of the area.
My downstairs neighbors constantly complain about noise from my unit. They told me the person before me made too much noise, also. I recently made a printout of my floor plan showing my rugs and computed the area of coverage, which came out to about 65 percent. That wasn’t good enough, so they sent the property manager up to take pictures, which had no bearing on the compliance issue as stated in our rules.
My downstairs neighbor is making this into a compliance issue so she can have the homeowner’s association pay attorney fees and come after me. The letter from their attorney stated that some of the rugs were too thin and there were areas that weren’t covered! I don’t know how “majority” becomes defined as anything over 50 percent.
I have been on a board of another condo for years, and I can’t begin to tell you how this board functions. I am not allowed to talk, save for the first 15 minutes before the board meetings, etc. How do I make sure that they see that this is not a compliance issue but an issue between two homeowners so she doesn’t have the protection and deep pockets of the board? Do I have a case against the broker that sold the unit to me? Is there a real estate board with whom you can file a complaint?
You have a mess on your hands, and it’s a multilevel mess. We’d like to step back and discuss noise and condominium association rules before addressing the basics of your particular question.
Condominium association rules relating to flooring materials usually aren’t in place for aesthetic reasons but for noise issues. Some associations have very detailed rules pertaining to how an owner may install hardwood floors. These rules are intended to reduce the transmission of noise from an upstairs unit to a unit below.
Frequently, the main complaint downstairs owners have about hardwood-floor owners above is the noise the upstairs people make when walking in shoes that hit the hardwood floor hard. Often, the shoes that create the most problem are women’s high heels and some men’s leather-soled shoes.
The reason condominium associations prefer wall-to-wall carpeting is that the padding and carpet create a soft surface area that help muffle the sound of people walking upstairs and reduce sound transmissions from one unit to the other. In buildings that have instituted strict guidelines relating to hardwood flooring, including the materials used, the manner of installation and other requirements that create a sound buffer between the floors similar to carpeting, homeowners tend to have fewer problems relating to noise.
Now, given that information, the value of the area rugs is not in the percentage of an area of a unit covered by the carpeting but in the strategic location of the area rugs. Yes, you can have area rugs that cover 80 percent of your unit, but if the area rugs don’t cover the pathways in which you walk, we can see how your walking might cause an issue for the unit owner below. Yes, your rules are ambiguous and you have an issue between two homeowners, but the unfortunate thing is that the owners below you appear to have dug in their heels, and so have you.
You’re looking to shield yourself from the noise issue by stating that you’ve complied with the rules, and your neighbor is claiming that you have not. Between the two of you, the board of managers of the building could mediate the dispute. Now that the downstairs neighbor has hired an attorney, that neighbor, of course, wants the association to pay for the attorney’s fees. We see both sides of the argument.
The question is whether the downstairs neighbor has a legitimate claim relating to the noise issue. If the neighbor does, then the question is whether you can do anything to remedy the situation. You indicated that you installed an underlayment for the wood flooring. Unfortunately, we’ve seen some flooring companies install wood flooring over wood slats that increase the sound issues rather than reduce them.
We can’t tell who is right in this disagreement. We would hope that the two of you could sit down and address your issues and try to come up with an agreeable solution. If your area rugs are thin, you might consider putting some padding under them. You can buy padding for not much money from carpeting vendors, or even online, and see if that helps. Runners down hallways or other areas that you walk across might also go a long way to limit the areas on which your foot traffic might hit bare floors.
On your neighbors’ side, we’d like to see what specific type of noise bothers them and when they’re hearing it. If you have a better understanding of the noise issue, you might be able to make some inexpensive fixes to solve the problem. However, if you and they focus on the percentage of your floor area that is carpeted, your problem will only get worse. Above all, attorneys in this discussion will cost everybody money, where that money could otherwise be put in place to resolve the sound issue.
We know that some neighbors’ sound concerns may never be satisfied. If that’s the case, even if you carpet your entire unit, the downstairs neighbors will still be upset at you. However, at this point, we don’t know if that’s the case. See if you can resolve this situation amicably. If you and your neighbors can’t talk to each other, enlist the help of a board member to informally mediate and see if some of our suggestions can help.
Ilyce Glink is the creator of an 18-part webinar + e-book series called “The Intentional Investor: How to Be Wildly Successful in Real Estate” as well as the author of many books on real estate. She also hosts the “Real Estate Minute” on her YouTube channel. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them at ThinkGlink.com.