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What can I do about my neighbour’s noisy night time showers?

As seen in The Irish Times, this article was sent to The Irish Times Property Clinic and which our MD, Enda Mc Guanemanaging director of Winters Property Management, a chartered property manager and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland responded to. Our expertise is often called upon by owners to advise them on difficult situations. 

Sound transfer should not negatively affect your ‘quiet enjoyment’ of the property

I live in a ground floor apartment built in 2006. The wastewater pipes from the en-suites above me appear not to have been insulated during construction. There is significant noise when neighbours above me use their en-suite for showers, toilet or using the wash hand basin. Generally, this doesn’t bother me, but they have taken to having showers of up to 20 minutes in duration between 3:45 and 5:30am. As the pipes go through the wall not far from my bed, the prolonged noise generally wakes me. This is happening several times a week. The management agent has told me he has sent out the house rules which require quiet between 11pm and 8am – but if anything, the noise has become more frequent, how can this issue be resolved?

Thanks for your query and I sympathise with your plight. Noise disturbances are not uncommon in modern-day apartment living. You have taken a sensible approach in raising your concerns with the managing agent however, it is important that you know your rights as you attempt to resolve the matter.

Homes built from 1991 onwards should have been designed and constructed to comply with the building regulations in force at the date of construction. Design guidelines on the limitation of sound transfer are identified within technical guidance document – E 1991 (TGD). This document was updated and improved in 1997 and again in 2014. The overall requirement stipulated that a wall or floor should have “reasonable resistance to airborne/impact sound” so it should ensure that you aren’t disturbed by the pipes in the apartment above you. However even if the building was constructed in full compliance with these guidelines it will not completely soundproof the property, but any sound transfer should not negatively impact on your “quiet enjoyment” of the property.

All owners within an apartment complex are bound by the covenants and conditions contained within their Indenture Lease, which forms part of a property’s title and is signed by owners when purchasing. One of the standard conditions for example is that each owner is required to keep their property in a good and tenantable state of repair. Some leases will also have clauses about noise within the complex and the obligations of owners to address any noise issues which arise.

In addition, House rules, which your agent has reissued are also provided for under Section 23 of the Multi-Unit Development (MUD) Act which makes the rules binding on all owners. You indicate that in fact, the noise has become more frequent since they have been reissued to your neighbours. It would be the job of the OMC or Managing Agent in such a case to put the owner on formal notice of their lease obligations and to note to them that the lease is legally enforceable. The OMC may then have to initiate legal action against the owner in the event that the leak is not repaired. To do this they will require details of the breaches of rules and this means dates, times and duration of the noise. In some instances, owners have used mobile phones to record the noise and this greatly helps the managing agent in addressing the issue, informally with the property owner.

If that fails, the OMC can take further legal steps to force the owner to comply with the lease covenants. The MUD Act makes specific provisions for addressing disputes within OMCs and Sections 24 and 25 deal with who can take a case under the legislation and for what. The Circuit Court will hear any cases taken under the Act, but there is the option for mediation as an alternative to taking legal action.

In the event that the property is rented then the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) may have a role to play in resolving the situation. A landlord of private rented accommodation owes, to each person that could be affected, a duty to enforce the obligations of the tenant under the tenancy. A third party may be able to refer a dispute to the RTB if they were directly and adversely affected by the breach of duty by a tenant. The RTB has a form for third parties to request this information downloadable from www.prtb.ie.

In extreme cases where a person considers a noise to be so loud, ongoing, frequent and of duration or volume giving reasonable cause for annoyance they can act through the district court under The Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 (Noise) Regulations, 1994 (S.I. No. 179 of 1994)

While it is not desirable to have to fall back on these legal obligations to get the situation resolved as it will no doubt cause tension between you and your neighbour; it is important that you act to protect your peaceful enjoyment of your home. There are a number of solutions which can be put in place retrospectively to reduce the noise but without seeing the property it’s difficult to make a suggestion. However, a good licensed Managing Agent will have dealt with this type of issue previously and will be able to assist you in resolving matters swiftly and as amicably as possible in the circumstances.