For members of an HOA management team, there are few disputes as prickly or as troublesome as HOA noise issues. When one neighbor brings grievances against another, all on account of what he or she perceives as high volumes of disruptive noise, it has all the makings of something that will end badly, either with hurt feelings and community unrest or with a solution that’s costly and invasive. Naturally, noise disputes are best avoided altogether, to the extent that it’s in the HOA’s power to prevent them.
And there are, to be sure, a few steps that can be taken. Most noise disputes are not just about loud music or excessive TV volume, as you might think, but rather they stem from one neighbor (especially in an apartment or condo complex) upgrading their home by peeling back the carpet and redoing the flooring. This can significantly alter the soundproofing capacities of said flooring, and it often done without the HOA’s consent. Of course, floor coverings are in an individual apartment or complex are not part of any “common” area, and are not necessarily subject to the HOA’s authority, but it is nevertheless prudent for the association to include some language about floor provisions in their architectural guidelines—perhaps something as simple as a provision that floor coverings will not be changed without the association’s knowing about it. This is something the HOA Board can legitimately enforce.
When a resident does approach the board wanting permission to change their flooring, the community might consider requesting some sort of “insulation equivalency”—that is, some kind of evidence that the new flooring provide roughly the same level of soundproofing as what was installed before. It’s more than reasonable to ask a resident to arrange for a sound test or retrieve the necessary statement of certification from the providers of the new flooring.
Ultimately, taking these kinds of steps to keep HOA noise issues and disputes from occurring is the best way to go; because noise tolerance is so variable from one person to the next, it is a particularly difficult issue for the HOA Board to deal with objectively. Best to ward it off before it even happens by making certain that your governing documents give you some authority in dealing with the problem pre-emptively.