In any apartment or multi-family building, the most likely cause of friction between residents is going to be noise.
"When you live in an apartment community with 100 other people, it's a part of life,"says Joe Stout, vice president and principal of Apogee Residential.
For property managers, noise complaints can be a particularly onerous source of headaches. To avoid this and provide your residents with the privacy and peace they desire, it helps to be proactive with your noise policy and responsive to complaints.
The physical characteristics of a building will have a direct impact on the amount of noise complaints a property manager receives. Stout says he experiences fewer noise complaints in newer buildings. Older buildings often have wood or drywall instead of concrete between units, making it easier for sound to travel. While it may not be economical to start replacing walls, making sure the wall-to-floor and wall-to-ceiling joints are sealed properly is relatively inexpensive and could prove to be a big difference.
The quality of the floor installation also can go a long way to determining how much sound travels between units above and below each other. Unfortunately, if a floor has been installed poorly, and is allowing sound to pass freely to the unit below, the cost of ripping out the floor and replacing it is likely to be prohibitive. For this reason, Stout is a proponent of installing carpet in all of your units. "Carpet and quality padding is one of the best sound insulations you're going to get, "he says.
In fact, Bram Fierstein, president of Gramatan Management Inc. says Gramatan requires that 80 percent of the floor in each of their apartments be covered with rugs or carpeting, or equally effective noise reducing material, excluding kitchens, bathrooms and closets.
Familiarizing yourself with the way sound travels in your buildings will make it easier to anticipate noise complaints and to prepare your tenants for the level of ambient noise they can expect.
Fierstein believes in a proactive approach to heading off noise issues before they happen. In addition to providing residents with a written reminder of the building's detailed noise policy, he encourages residents to get to know their neighbors and work to resolve noise issues amongst themselves. While management needs to be responsive to residents' concerns, the easiest and most satisfying resolutions to noise disputes often come from neighbors talking to each other. "In most cases, if you talk intelligently, a reasonable solution can be reached, "Stout says.
To promote this dialogue, Fierstein encourages residents to view intervention by management as the last resort. "We do not have the magic potion to change people's behavior, "he says.
Even with a well-publicized noise policy, some residents will disagree with what qualifies as a reasonable level of noise. "Historically these types of complaints are the most difficult to address, "Fierstein says. "What is considered offensive noise is very subjective. "It is inevitable that some of these disagreements require you, as a property manager, to step in. How you respond can go a long way to determining whether the problem lingers.
When responding to a complaint, handle every complaint promptly and with the proper level of concern. "Deal with things immediately and professionally, "Stout says. That does not mean each complaint will require a warning to the offending party.
"We've had complaints about residents vacuuming their floor at 7:00 p.m., "Fierstein says. "That is not a valid complaint. "
Stout emphasizes the need to handle each complaint personally and respond on a case-by-case basis. If a noise complaint is received at Apogee, the property manager will often go listen him or herself, to verify whether the noise is unreasonable, he says. "We can't ask the upstairs resident to stop walking, "Stout adds.
If a resident is making unreasonable noise and clearly is in violation of policy, then it becomes much easier for you, as a property manager, to take action. "If it's an issue of the resident doing something outside of our guidelines, we can step in, "Stout says.
Apogee handles noise complaints officially by first sending a letter notifying the offender of the noise violation, after a second complaint, another letter is sent with more firm wording. A third complaint may be accompanied by a lease violation notice or lease termination letter.
Ultimately, Stout says, the key thing to remember in noise complaints is that, "In any situation, people want to be heard. They want someone to listen and to respond. "