Bluffs Advocate
tenant landlord legal noise

Legal Department

Being Polite and Persistent Pays Off

Noisy tenants need to know that they are interfering with the peaceful enjoyment of other persons’ homes

By Barbara Warner

            Please remember when reading my column, I’m only sharing general information. None of what I write should be taken as legal advice, opinion, or an offer to represent you. You should consult with a lawyer if you have legal questions or concerns.

           For new readers unfamiliar with my first couple of columns, I talked about some of the key things to keep in mind when you’re dealing with your landlord, tenant, neighbour, or the Landlord Tenant Board. I suggested that above all else, behaviour should be polite, practical, and persistent. Here’s an example:
           Noise complaints. They’re probably the most common daily issue for tenants and landlords. One person’s quiet volume is another person’s ear-splitting, so disputes happen regularly.
           Try to reduce the noise coming from your apartment. Put down carpet, leave your shoes at the door, wear socks or slippers, use earphones and keep your music (and tv, and Internet videos) at a safe volume, keep verbal disagreements at a reasonable volume—no screaming matches with your significant other, please. These measures will help out your fellow tenants, and if you aren’t contributing to the noise, your complaint about other people’s noise will be more credible.
           Think about the reasons for the noise: is it a one-time thing like a visit from the tenant’s young nieces and nephews? Is it ongoing but necessary like maintenance operations in the hallway? Not all noise is the same. Some noises you just need to put up with, and other noises you can do something about.
           Document what you’re hearing, and when you are hearing it. On a calendar, or in a date book or notebook, mark the date, time, and location of the noise, what you’re hearing, and why it’s bothering you. Keep track of the noises for a while to see if there’s a pattern— this information may be crucial in figuring out where the noise is coming from, why it’s happening, and what can be done about it. I’ve had clients use tape recorders, video cameras, and phones to record the noise. Just be sure to record from your residence only.
           Consider approaching your neighbours to ask them to keep it down. I mention “consider” because you need to assess the situation and make a judgment call about it. In most cases, it is likely that neighbours will appreciate being asked directly, even if they disagree that their noise is a problem. In some situations, you may feel that it is either unsafe or impractical for you to communicate with your neighbour directly.
           If you do approach your neighbour, do so safely and respectfully. Knock on the door, introduce yourself if necessary, stay outside (do not enter the apartment) and do not threaten any action. Instead, start by saying, “It’s possible you don’t know,” or, “You may not realize, but...” and explain that the music/ voices/singing (fill in the blank here) is quite disruptive. Often, neighbours will say they didn’t realize it was bothering you. They will apologize and keep it down immediately. Other times, you’ll need to do more.
           If the behaviour continues, or if circumstances warrant it, you’ll need to take your complaint to the management. You may wish to let the superintendent on duty know— even if it’s not an emergency. Many landlords have procedures in place for dealing with noise complaints, including documentation by staff whenever a complaint is made. Definitely call or visit the landlord during regular business hours to follow up. You need to provide the landlord with all the information about the noise and give him/her an opportunity to act upon it.
           This is another point in the process where patience is very important. The landlord does not have to start with legal procedures right away. Management may prefer a less formal approach, such as speaking with the tenants, or arranging for a mediation session for everyone involved. If the landlord is threatening eviction, they must give the offending tenants written notice. The tenants usually have the right to some time before further legal action can take place (i.e. to consult a lawyer, stop the behaviour, change what they’re doing, etc.).
           Remember, the City of Toronto also has noise bylaws. Call 311, visit your councillor’s office or go to the City’s website for more information. In some cases, the noise which offends you may also break the law. Get the facts and report to the City if the situation fits the City’s criteria and other avenues have been exhausted.
           I hope your noise troubles are few and far between, and if they’re not, that this month’s column is helpful to you.

           Barbara Elizabeth Warner is a Barrister & Solicitor at WarnerLaw. You may contact her at 647-918-5387, or @WarnerLaw on Twitter.