Q&A: Disturbing, or Disturbed?

Q. I live in a condo where there are quiet hours after 9 p.m., and all disturbing noise no matter the time can result in a fine. Two months after I moved in, the downstairs neighbor moved in. It’s been a nightmare ever since. Banging, screaming, fights, rude guests who loiter and scream in front of the building. Three months after he moved in, I finally complained to the association. Upon receiving his notice, he came directly to me and tried to smooth things over. It was shocking. He flat out admitted to being a drug dealer and offered illicit substances as an olive branch. I didn’t have my phone to record the conversation, and wasn’t sure a record of the conversation could be used anyway, given he did not permit me to record it. At any rate, that topic has not come up again, and the noise level has gotten worse and worse. His live-in girlfriend screams frequently, and I’m told (by him) that she’s hard to control when she’s drunk; they have extremely loud sex at 1 a.m. while I’m trying to sleep; just today while on a work call, the noise from downstairs erupted from what could only be a psychotic episode from drug use, babbling sounds like speaking in tongues, thrashing, banging. I recorded the noise and sent it to management. Management has told me over and over again to contact the police, and the police have told me they can only intervene if the resident is disturbing the peace or if there is a domestic disturbance. This is one for the books. Is anyone able to impart any advice?

                                —Downstairs Disaster

A. “Based on your fact pattern, your question presents more questions than information to help craft a response,” says Sima Kirsch, attorney with the Law Office of Sima Kirsch in Chicago. “There are a number of options you might consider; however, without reviewing what your operating documents and your rules or policies provide in your particular situation, any information offered may not be relied upon and it is for information purposes only. You may have a policy on smoking and/or the use of illegals or a violation policy that sets out different levels of violations, and—depending on where you live—a complaint policy that is mandated by the State. Your bylaws most certainly have a provision prohibiting ‘noxious or offensive activities’ that create a disturbance to other owners and a provision for mediation.

“It’s important to know whether there are units below or next to the offending unit that would be able to hear the noise and whether there have in fact been other complaints; if not, it could be a problem for you. Consider keeping a new log, tape more, report each event to the board and management following association procedure—not by email—and retain a sound transmission expert to confirm there is more than an average transmission of sound. Noise nuisances are judged by a dual standard, and both tests must be met. First a subjective test—whether you believe the noise is unreasonable—and second is the objective standard and whether a reasonable person would find the noise unreasonable. Continue to call the police whenever the neighbors are in the midst of a disturbance and log their response. You need to take their names and badge numbers, and if they continue to be non-responsive, write a letter to the Commander of your precinct with a cc: to the Mayor and your Alderperson.

“Continue to complain to the board and police. If your complaints remain unanswered, you might consider sending letters to the Commander, Mayor, and Alderperson or State Rep and/or go to the media about your unresponsive board and management and the police. If you have the support, vote in a new board. If at this point you have not reached a resolution and the board’s behavior remains consistent, gather all of your evidence, logs, tapes, noise expert report and seek to obtain an order enjoining the board to enforce its own rules against the noise nuisance and other rules and for disregarding your interests.”             n

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