Too many condo noise rules = no condo for us?
October 13, 2009 1:56 PM   Subscribe

My fiance and I are in the midst of buying a condo. Offer accepted, inspection went great, still collecting all the documents related to the condo association. Yesterday, we got a three page document that is the "noise abatement policy." We are not happy. But should we suck it up and still buy the place?

The condo is in a 3 floor, 7 unit building. Built in the 1920's, gut rehabbed less than 10 years ago. According to meeting minutes, there have been issues with noise because not enough soundproofing was used. In the four times we've been in the place, we've never heard anyone in other units, but we were making enough racket ourselves and we never saw anyone either.

The noise abatement policy requires area rugs covering almost the entire floor in all major rooms (bedrooms, living room, dining area, hallway). It requires padding on the washer/dryer. It requires "major activities" such as "house cleaning, minor repairs in the unit, etc." to be done between 9am and 7pm.

This went into effect last year. The owners of the unit we have the offer in on put their place on the market in January. They are not in complete compliance with the rules, though they do have wall-to-wall carpeting in the bedrooms.

The issue is: my fiance likes his music. And his movies. And he's not a night owl, but he'll have music on until 10:30-11pm sometimes. Movies might go later on the weekends. His dream is a gorgeous surround sound system. He considers himself an audiophile. Is this compatible with such a noise policy?

We also have two rather large cats, both of whom like to run around occasionally and one of whom is a bit of a talker at night (loud enough to wake us). I can hear our current upstairs-neighbor-cat all the time when its running about. Are we in trouble with our cats?

There is a unit below us, a unit above us, a unit next to us. How do we find out if this is an association that will complain if they hear a pin drop? How do we determine if we're being unreasonable? How do we know if we're going to get nasty notes and fines if we have 6 people over for dinner and they don't leave until near midnight on a weekend? Any experiences with this?
posted by bibbit to Home & Garden (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Depending on the language in your contract, you might want to start proceedings to walk away from this property, especially since your fiance's activities would seem to clash with the "we love quiet" nature of the noise abatement policy. Also, I would ask the board of the condo and get a response in writing to all of your questions.
posted by squorch at 2:01 PM on October 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

Get out of the sale. If they've had to enact a policy this specific, one of two things is going on:

1) the noise problem is so severe that the sound of your neighbors sneezing during flu season is going to drive you batty and you'll be paranoid constantly about your neighbors listening to you have sex.

2) it's a standard apartment with minor noise leakage, but your neighbors and/or the condo association are insanely uptight and will be looking for reasons to report you for violating any policy they can think of, and the policies will only get worse from here.

Either way, you don't want to live there.
posted by decathecting at 2:01 PM on October 13, 2009 [41 favorites]

I think this might not be a good fit for you. You probably know this already, but are hoping for a solution somehow. Maybe someone else will have a more optimistic take, but I think you will want to keep looking.
posted by amtho at 2:04 PM on October 13, 2009

Noise-related issues are one of the most common complaints about apartment living. If I were you I would strongly reconsider. Your frustrations about keeping your own volume levels low will likely be matched by the frustration of hearing every little thing your neighbors do, as well.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:04 PM on October 13, 2009

Walk away. Now. If the soundproofing is so bad that it requires such extreme bylaws, it's bad.

You'll be unhappy, your neighbors will be unhappy, and you'll hate having to deal with the constant complaints. You can try and find neighbors who live there to ask them if folks are the complaining type, but honestly, it's not that easy to get all of those bylaws in place -- enough people had to be annoyed (and complain) that the policy was enacted just last year.
posted by barnone at 2:06 PM on October 13, 2009

Agreed. Strongly reconsider. Particularly if he's an audiophile. You will get complaints and it will NOT be worth it. My apartment is so troublesome because of impossibly thin walls, that we all had to buy white noise machines. Trust me. Don't buy. This is a big investment and it should fit what your lifestyles.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 2:08 PM on October 13, 2009

My condo association has a similar rule about the rugs and carpeting, and I expect it is a pretty common one. It's a brick building 100 years old, and for some reason I don't know about how it was built, you can really hear people walking above you otherwise -- women in heels are the worst of them all. Fortunately, I live on the first floor above the basement, so we have mainly exposed hard wood floors, and my upstairs neighbor is fully carpeted.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 2:09 PM on October 13, 2009

I've lived in apartments where noise travels easily. It's a drag. You'll have to keep your music quiet. You'll hesitate about watching movies in the evening. You'll have to talk to your neighbors every time you want to have even a small party, and you can kind of forget about having a big one. And if you go out of town and sublet to your buddy who's only 21 and never had his own apartment before, he'll rack up the noise complaints and be a dick about it and get you this close to being evicted. Something like that.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:10 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

It requires padding on the washer/dryer.

Run that one by the local fire chief.

Unfortunately, though, noise abatement comes with the territory when you're living in an apartment, condo, townhouse, etc.; it really shouldn't have been a surprise. Blame your own realtor for not hipping you to that.

I've lived in a condo where the upstairs neighbor put in hardwood, and it was the first time I noticed I had an upstairs neighbor. And, boy, did I notice! With all the carpets and whatnot, you probably won't hear/transmit too much, unless the walls are paper thin and uninsulated.

In any case, just ask the neighbors.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:10 PM on October 13, 2009

Response by poster: We were totally aware that there were going to be noise policies, since we knew the bedrooms had to be carpeted and we knew no dogs were allowed in the building. I didn't think the policy was TOO awful (maybe more strict than I would like) but my fiance nearly hit the roof when he saw it.

But aren't we going to have something similar no matter what building we live in? Shouldn't there be SOME rules?

We're of course also trying to get the first-time homeowners credit, and we've been looking at places since JUNE. This the only place that's come even close to what we want & can afford.
posted by bibbit at 2:14 PM on October 13, 2009

Best answer: The apartment I used to rent had a policy like this. It was put in place after some yahoo decided to practice his tuba at 11pm on weeknights (I kid you knot, I asked about it, that was what I was told)! In practice, while most people respected the noise policy, the couple above me had toddlers who didn't understand the concept of "indoor feet" and who were up later than the noise curfew. And the guy downstairs would blast Mariachi music on his speaker at 4:30 in the afternoon when the nurse on a night shift living next door to me was sleeping. So, you may find that the noise curfew isn't as "strict" as the policy makes it out to be, given some simple precautions.
posted by LN at 2:19 PM on October 13, 2009

We bought a place earlier this year up in Andersonville, it's a "concrete" loft, meaning that the floors are, well, concrete instead of wood. I could brutally murder my fiancee* , and the neighbors would never know! Not to be all creepy, but I'm pretty sure there is a unit for sale in my building. That said, there's a lot of concrete lofts in Chicago, and they do a pretty great job of deadening the sound.

*I assure you, she appreciates this joke every time I tell it.
posted by Oktober at 2:19 PM on October 13, 2009

GTFO. Housing prices are only going down for the time being, so you're more or less in the catbird seat just by being a buyer these days.
posted by rhizome at 2:21 PM on October 13, 2009

I should also note that my Mom and Dad had an apartment with a noise curfew when they first got married (late 60's). Dad played his accordion and kept time with his leaden foot, but would stop immediately when the curfew started. Living with a noise curfew is do-able, is what I'm trying to say.
posted by LN at 2:21 PM on October 13, 2009

Best answer: Shouldn't there be SOME rules?

Yes. And the fact that they're so strict just might mean your neighbours are actually quiet and courteous, which, trust me, is a good thing.

Your boyfriend might want to invest in some nice headphones, though.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:22 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Where do you live? If you live in a city with mostly modern construction the walls will generally be thin and the building will have noise complaints. This is because modern construction mehods are cheaper. "Modern" in this sense could be 50 years old or more.

Perhaps look into local building codes or other pertinent statute for more info.

But again without knowing where you live we can only guess about what the relevant laws or regulations are about noise in multifamily housing.
posted by dfriedman at 2:22 PM on October 13, 2009

This sounds like there's not a whole lot insulating the units from each other. I used to live in a loft condo which had virtually nothing seperating me from my next-door and next-floor neighbors. A spilled glass of water could make it through the floor and into your downstairs neighbor's ceiling. Fist-fights occasionally broke out over noise and spills.
I, myself, got complaints about laughing too loud after 10pm. And when my neighbor had a baby, I woke up when it cried at night.

You say there's not enough soundproofing used. That also means that there might not be enough fireproof insulation between the units and the whole builing might not be up to code. There are often building codes regulating how well a fire can be contained to a single unit.

If you've only ever seen the condo during the day, visit in the evening when everyone's home from work and noisy to make sure it's something you can handle. Give it some serious thought.
posted by Jon-o at 2:23 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would absolutely walk away from the deal. Noise in any condo building is bad enough. That there is a "noise abatement policy" is an enormous red flag. You will absolutely get notices and fines. You should consider not only the noise you want to make but also the noise that is going to be bothering you for the next few years. Sounds brutal.
posted by meerkatty at 2:23 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

In my experience, for people who like their movies and their music loud and in surround, making them turn it down is like you're physically hurting them. I don't think they would have put these rules in place unless there was a problem. It sounds like your fiance will be miserable with all these restrictions.
posted by amethysts at 2:31 PM on October 13, 2009

Nthing everyone. Seriously, get out of this asap.

Once upon a time (and not too long ago) I lived in a super cool vintage building with awful sound dampening design. Let me be clear: I LOVE THIS BUILDING. I thought about buying the entire building many times over the years. I've worked in property management and was well aware of what I might be facing if I wanted to improve the sound situation and turn the building condo. In the end, I had to accept it just couldn't be done. There was little, if anything, I could do to resolve the sound (and sometimes smell) issues and retain the original walls, mouldings, and overall basic construction.


Living in this beautiful but flawed environment effected my sleep patterns and my overall health adversely. It happened by degrees. I accepted each negative situation as it occurred. I kept justifying my residency because I loved the neighborhood and building so much.

Here is the kicker: My apartment in this building had not ONE shared wall. Not one! But the courtyard & shared floors, shared hallways.... TMI concerning my neighbors and their living habits. I had no privacy and vice versa.


If the noise abatement policy on the unit you are considering is so strict, it could be all 6 other unit owners are totally uptight. But the odds are, this old structure you are considering for a home will not provide you with the "HOME" feeling you desire.

Are you and your fiance thinking of living with roommates? Because that is very much the experience you may be in for if you buy this condo, be warned.

The market is WIDE open right now. Go find yourselves someplace you can live in happily and be yourselves!!

It's no fun dealing with neighbor issues, and you don't have to.

Good Luck!
posted by jbenben at 2:36 PM on October 13, 2009

Try looking at it the other way. Don't worry about noise YOU'LL make, but think that with those sorts of rules you're going to hear EVERY noise your neighbours make. It will drive you crazy.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:38 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Run. RUN. RUN! Why would you ever let someone tell YOU what to do with YOUR property? This is a major warning sign. Here is one good, valid, non-emotional reason why not to buy this place:

The noise-abatement policy gave you pause. You might walk from the deal. When you want to sell the place, do you think other people will also find issue with the policy and walk?

If you really want the place, I would beat the everloving daylights out of the seller, because that's a dud of a condo only due to the policy. Make sure that it's cheap enough that you will be comfortable selling it cheap when it's time to move on.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 3:00 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

What everyone else has said. This is not the place for you.
I can see their point of view. I used to live in a small block with only four flats. One of the tenants used to *love* playing his stereo at all hours, sometimes even until 3am. When he was confronted about it, he said "Oh! Sorry, I'll turn it down". Which he did, but it still kept us awake!
Some old places really are just like that, no matter what you do, sound travels.
Find somewhere else, with better soundproofing. Remember, you're buying, not renting, you are going to be living here for the long term!
posted by humpy at 3:28 PM on October 13, 2009

Why would you ever let someone tell YOU what to do with YOUR property?

Er, it's a condo, so them's the breaks. Every condo has rules, just like an apartment building. I do agree, however, that this condo is not for you. If your boyfriend likes to play loud music late at night, you want to look for a modern condo and ask upfront about the sound insulation. What are the walls and floors made of? You should be looking for a concrete structure. This may get you started.

Other than that, maybe you should be in the market for a small, detached house? Avoid the condo fees and get your own space to be nice and loud.
posted by Dasein at 3:35 PM on October 13, 2009

If your fiancee would be unhappy having to curtail his movie-watching and high(er) volume music watching at 10pm on weekdays, then yeah, look somewhere else.

It's clear that somebody did something to push the association into enacting them so they could take actions against habitual offenders. Write to the head of the condo board and don't go any further until you've gotten some answers on what they consider reasonable practice.

We've got one unit upstairs. Last night at 10:30 we had to call upstairs to ask her to stop with the Wii because we could hear the cardio kickboxing all the way in our bedroom from the upstairs adjoining bedroom. Given that we get up @6am, I don't think it was unreasonable for us to do so. They're fortunately really understanding and accomodating even though they tend to get up and go to bed later.
posted by canine epigram at 3:40 PM on October 13, 2009

As someone who has lived with the stress of being an alleged "noise-maker" (which involved tip toeing to the toilet in the middle of the afternoon) the stress and mental mangling isn't worth it.
posted by gomichild at 3:42 PM on October 13, 2009

His dream is a gorgeous surround sound system. He considers himself an audiophile. Is this compatible with such a noise policy?

posted by philip-random at 3:54 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

I can hear my neighbors talking, their intimate conversations, and it's like they're in my bedroom hanging out with me. They're not even playing music or watching tv. Every time someone coughs I jump six feet in the air. And I can hear them with a white noise machine on. You have to be able to talk and cough in your house, so I'm not going to complain to them or to the management, but if I had known this, I would never, ever, ever have moved in to this otherwise great apartment. It wasn't a problem when I visited and did a walkthrough because I wasn't trying to sleep and they were probably at work since it was during business hours, and it wasn't a problem the first few days because - unhappy coincidence - my neighbors were away. By the time I realized it was an issue it was way too late. My apartment complex has a no noise between 10 and 10 policy which I like but it does not say anything about not talking or coughing in your house (not that I think it should -- it's just a question of what even qualifies as noise in these kinds of thin-wall situations).

Consider the things that you'll have to give up, and then consider the annoyances of hearing every little thing that your neighbors are doing at any hour of the day. Unless the apartment is amazing in all other aspects (including the price) I would find somewhere else to call home.
posted by k8lin at 3:59 PM on October 13, 2009

While agreeing with "RUN, DON'T WALK!", you and Hubby can clear this up by taking anecdotal evidence from your potential neighbors. They will let you know how happy they are about the idea of having an audiophile neighbor.

If you move in and DON'T like it, you'll have to either resell the thing or try renting it out and both sound like crappy "I got stuck with this" options. Don't get stuck with someone else's problem.

As was mentioned above you guys can find something better...the market is in your favor.

Good Luck!!!
posted by snsranch at 4:16 PM on October 13, 2009

As a fellow audiophile, I would try to find a place that would allow me my enjoyment of music.
posted by digividal at 4:36 PM on October 13, 2009

This is almost certainly a cover their ass policy, where no one will say a thing unless you irritate someone by being loud. However, an audiophile who wants a surround sound system is the kind of person who will irrirate by being loud, and they *already have sound problems*. You're not going to be happy, and your neighbours won't like you. Lots of people want those types of policies and will be happy in that kind of place: your fiance won't. And, once you've irritated your already noise-intolerant neighbours by playing music and movies loud enough they can hear it, they'll be more likely to add on irritations like your noisy cat. The problem isn't an occasional dinner party, it's an occasional dinner party once there are already problems.

Find a place where there is better soundproofing. Also consider being on the bottom floor only.
posted by jeather at 5:19 PM on October 13, 2009

I would be annoyed as hell to have a neighbor who has music and/or movies on until 10-11 on weeknights. Some of us are trying to put our small children to bed so we can wake with the dawn. We don't necessarily like it that way, and maybe we used to be audiophiles, too. But seriously, 11pm on a weeknight? No.

It looks like everyone is telling you to run because this place has crazy rules, but I think you guys should really consider either getting an independent dwelling or cutting back on your noise. I wouldn't want to live next to you.
posted by Lullen at 6:14 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Seconding Lullen.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 6:49 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

As as an audiophile who enjoys his surround sound and has lived in apartments until recently, I'd try to find something else. A nice sound system is possible in an apartment or condo, but you won't be able to get the most out of it. You won't enjoy it as much you'd like.
posted by nickthetourist at 7:16 PM on October 13, 2009

I moved into your building. Not literally, of course. But exactly the same building of exactly the same vintage in Chicago. With exactly the same noise insulation problems. What was different? I had no warning until it was too late. It was the worst 3 years of my life. It started out fine. Then a new couple moved in above us. She liked to walk around in what sounded like high heels - every step was like a gun shot.

Then they had children. Unlike, say, pets, a condo association can't ban children. The baby was colicky and cried constantly. It was like I had just brought a baby home. I heard every cry. Each shriek at 1am, then 1:30, then 2:45am, then 3:35, then 4:50 woke me up. Even after I bought a sound machine. But that was nothing compared to when the baby became a toddler and started walking. Toddlers pound the floor with every step. Seriously, a sumo wrestler in wooden clogs is lighter on his feet than a barefoot 18 month old. It drove my wife and I insane - we fought about it; we stressed about confronting the neighbors; we felt trapped because we knew that no one would buy our place after hearing the noise.

The fact that you heard nothing when you inspected the place means nothing. We found out our neighbors were told by the seller when we were seeing the condo, and they made a special effort to be quiet or not home.

Seriously. I know you have looked at tons of other places, and are tired of shopping around. You've fallen in love with this place. It's perfect. But it's not. It's hell. Turn back now.
posted by centerweight at 9:09 PM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: So, an update: after I posted this, we talked to the woman who lives below us, and she explained the noise policy was in place because of past issues (loud people, loud dogs). Those people (and dogs) have since moved out, there's now a "no dog" policy, and people in the building do their best to get along with each other and realize that there's going to be noise. Our unit housed two little kids until we bought it, and no murders happened over noise. The policy is only there to fall back on if two neighbors can't agree on a solution of their own.

We've been there about three weeks now, and we can, indeed, hear the people above and below us, but it's mostly the Peanuts-adults-noise (wah wah wah-wah wah) and not like someone sitting next to us. We have yet to play music/tv/movies past 10:30pm, so maybe it'll get worse, but so far no complaints. So I think (hope) we're going to be okay.
posted by bibbit at 1:56 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

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