Barking dog. Cigarette smoke. Loud music.

Condo units share walls, ceilings and floors. On occasion, you may hear your neighbours' music or television and if your strata allows smoking on balconies, you may smaell secondhand smoke. If your condo allows dogs, you may hear someone having a RUFF day!

Noise and smoke are the main complaints in stratas, however, tensions around these issues are not as common as people believe. The few horror stories that circulate taint the image of condo living but those are absolutely the most extreme cases because condo living tends to attract like-minded people who want to peacefully coexist with their neighbours. It's quite likely that badly behaved neighbours in condos would also be badly behaved in a house in a respectful community, too. 

Over the last 10 years I have lived in many different stratas and I have never been bothered by noise from within the building (neighbouring buildings, yes) and smoke was only a problem for a brief time in one building.  If you do experience second hand smoke or noise, what is the best way to resolve these problems?

First, it's a good idea to develop respectful relationships with your neighbours and a good way to achieve this is to introduce yourself as soon as you settle into your new condo. If people know you, they are less likely to continue to do things they know will upset you. You don't have to become best friends with your condo neighbours (although that is possible) but forming a friendly relationship is as easy as saying hello in the elevator or standing up at an AGM to introduce yourself and to say how happy you are to be living in the building. 

If you've experienced something annoying coming from your neighbour, here is a list of ways that may help you:

  • A polite knock on the door when you're not angry. Simply letting your neighbour know that you can hear them and it's disturbing you can be well received if it's handled in a respectful way. Don't get angry as this will not help the situation at all and could create much bigger problems. It's important to try to keep the peace when you live in a strata.

  • If you're uncomfortable with a face-to-face conversation, a non-confrontation note can be slipped under the door. Again, respect is important and just letting them know you're bothered may be a surprise to them and they will do their best to not inconvenience you.

  • A letter written to the Property Management and strata council is the next step if you are not able to resolve the situation on your own.

  • If you've written to the council and the situation has not improved, document all the times you are inconvenienced and continue to send notifications to the PM and council. The council is obligated to deal with the problem by fining the offending owner, as the BC Strata Property Act states that no owner, tenant occupant or visitor is allowed to cause a hazard or unreasonably interfere with the enjoyment of other strata lots.

  • If the problem is not being resolved to your satisfaction by the council and property manager, you can speak directly to council at a council meeting and find out how they will deal with the issue and have this put in writing. 

One thing to consider if you do experience a conflict, is that while you have the absolute right to not be unreasonably bothered by your neighbours, they, too have rights. In most situations in life, it's good to know how to compromise or to not be unreasonable while the conflict is being resolved. If you know your neighbours like to go out late on Saturdays and come home and play their music loud enough that you can hear it, but the other neighbours around are not bothered by it, then it could make sense to adjust to make the situation work for you. Earplugs on Saturday nights or a white noise player beside your bed could keep the situation under control and keep a neighbourly relationship from going sour. If it's every single night, though, then that is a much bigger problem and will require escalation.  If you know you are very sensitive to noise, then it would be smart to only buy into a well insulated building with double thick walls or concrete.  If the problem is smoke, try closing the windows in the area where the smoke blows in and have a fan by your beds. You could also have the window open and install a window fan to only blow out. You could have another window fan in another part fo the condo to bring in fresh air, but away from where the smoke is coming from.

Fans are not the same as fresh air from an open window but having an antagonistic relationship with a neighbour is also toxic and can lead to health problems, too. So if you can compromise and find ways around the problem, it's much better than making your neighbours your enemies. If smoke is a big irritant you may want to only consider moving into a condo that has a full ban on smoking.  Condo living does require the ability to bend from time to time, but overall, the few compromises are worth it if condo living is a good fit for you. And you may not realize it, but your neighbours may be compromising to work around you, too.

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