September 11, 2009

What's That Noise? - Hard Surface Flooring and Condominium Living

A certain amount of noise must be tolerated in multi-family housing. However, sometimes the situation becomes intolerable. Installation of hard surface flooring in a condominium unit may increase its value, but it can also ruin a downstairs owner’s life. This is why many Washington condominiums have provisions in their declarations that forbid the installation of hard surface flooring in a unit without prior written approval of the board.

Provisions restricting hard surface flooring allow boards to act as gatekeepers. Boards may either ban that flooring entirely or allow it subject to conditions, such as compliance with codes relating to sound transmission. Some boards require owners to install specific sound deadening materials under new hard surface flooring. In some cases, soundproofing systems can substantially lessen the additional noise from new hard surface flooring.

If an owner has improperly installed hard surface flooring that is causing a problem, then the board may have to consider using fines and/or a lawsuit to compel the owner to restore the original flooring. A history of not requiring prior written approval for hard surface flooring can complicate matters, but one valid response is that the board is acting appropriately now. A deliberate failure to enforce a clear provision of the declaration when the circumstances call for it would leave the association and the board vulnerable to civil liability.