There are always lots of neighbour issues when you live in an apartment.

The people upstairs come home when the pubs shut and then party till 3am every weekend. The nice young woman downstairs goes out to work, leaving her little dog to yap all day until she comes home. The young fellas on the floor below clearly have never learned what their stove is for, so every night is barbie night – preceded by the ritual burn-off of old fat, the smoke and stink from which pours into your apartment.

“Ah, well, that’s apartment living,” you tell yourself as you turn up the volume of your stereo to full “doof” to drown out the sound of the 12-year-old next door practising her clarinet for an hour every evening. By the way, your music is now keeping the shift-working nurses on the other side awake.

Is that really what we have to put up with when we live in apartments? There should be some give and take, but there are also limits

Most states have laws that would curb the weekend party animals regardless of where they lived. After midnight you can call the cops and your neighbours could be fined and even have their stereo gear impounded.

And there are by-laws in apartment blocks that limit excessively loud music all day, not just late at night. That includes little Miss Clarinet squeaking her way through the first few bars of Rhapsody In Blue.

The yappy dog is almost certainly breaching by-laws, not to mention local council ordinances. The barbie boys are creating a nuisance (although proving it may be tricky).

In fact, all of these scenarios involve some breach – some of them several – but who wants to be the apartment block grinch by complaining?

Do you really want to bump into the blokes from downstairs, now seriously undernourished because their landlord has ordered them to ditch the barbie? Are you prepared to wear the guilt of ruining a child’s musical ambitions (or, at least, her parents’)?

Taking The Middle Ground
However, there may be a compromise and the way to achieve that is by talking. The people above, below and next to you have no idea how loud the noise they are making sounds in your flat.

The blokes downstairs have no concept of where their barbie smoke goes and how bad it smells when it gets there (OK, they’re not that bright). The woman whose dog barks while she’s at work, doesn’t know … she’s at work, after all.

That said, talking isn’t always an option because no one likes to be confronted by an irritated neighbour at their front door. And in some blocks you can’t even get to other floors, anyway.

However, the anonymous note is a particularly irritating form of communication.

So a friendly chat before you complain has to be a better option. And perhaps the way to open the discussion is to offer a gift with a note attached.

A card saying: “Can we talk about your barbecue …?” attached to a box of chocolates or bottle of drinkable red will at least show you are not the negative namby-pamby nimby they might otherwise assume you are.

To be fair, there are people who live in apartments whose response will be “I can do what I want in my home and if you don’t like it, tough…!”

In which case, you have been given licence to unleash the “dogs of strata” war, in the form of by-law breach notices, complaints to the police and letters to landlords if they’re tenants. However these by-laws are difficult to implement and notices to offenders often lead back to mediation before they are heard in a court.

What can a body corporate do in these cases?

If a body corporate believes that an owner or occupier is breaching the by-laws, the body corporate can speak to the owner or occupier informally to try to fix the issue.

If that doesn’t work, the first formal step under the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997 is for the body corporate to give a by-law contravention notice to the person it believes is breaching the by-laws.

The decision to give a by-law contravention notice can be made by the committee, or the body corporate at a general meeting.

The body corporate usually cannot take action to enforce the by-laws until it has sent a by-law contravention notice.

The body corporate can give a ‘continuing contravention notice’ to an owner or occupier if it believes that they are breaching a by-law, and it is likely that this will continue.
(So that first contravention notice acts as an official warning for that owner to remedy the situation.)

An example of this type of breach is where an owner has made a change to the outside look of their lot without the approval required in the by-law or they have an animal that is constantly annoying other residents because of its noise.

The purpose of the notice is to ask the person to fix the problem within a certain time.
The notice must:

♦ say that the body corporate believes the person is breaching a by-law
♦ detail the by-law that the body corporate believes is being breached
♦ explain how the by-law is being breached
♦ set a time period for the person to fix the problem
♦ explain that if the person does not comply the body corporate may:
◊ start proceedings in the Magistrates Court
◊ make a conciliation application (mediate the matter).

The body corporate will need to fund any legal fight and costs can mount, so again the conciliation/mediation pathway is probably going to be the least costly. Of course, you do need the cooperation of a potentially stubborn neighbour in this case.
(BTW You may get costs awarded if you win but such an award may not cover all your legal costs.)

With thanks and acknowledgement to J Thomson for his contribution to this post.

Barking dogs, problem fences, loud noise and disgusting smells from neighbours?
Check out all the solutions, and your legal rights HERE.

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Written by The Legal Eagle