Living in a community association, by its nature, involves existing alongside other people, which in turn means sometimes enduring annoyances and inconveniences. Dogs bark, barbeques smell, kids scream, and the sound of music travels. When do these everyday occurrences become a problem, and what is a homeowners’ association’s responsibility to limit noise and nuisance within its community?
In Colorado, a neighbor’s noises, smells, and other behaviors become actionable when they constitute an “unreasonable interference with [another’s] use and enjoyment of property.” In Minnesota, nuisance includes “anything which is injurious to health, or indecent or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction of the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property.” Of course, neither state defines what qualifies as “unreasonable” or “offensive,” and whether a particular noise, smell, or other annoyance constitutes a nuisance will depend on the specific facts of the case. Because of the vagueness of the law, it is usually cheaper and more efficient for an aggrieved homeowner to seek relief elsewhere before bringing the matter to the court.
In a community association, that relief can come from the association’s governing documents, including the Declarations, Bylaws, and Rules and Regulations. Declarations often prohibit anything at the property that would interfere with another owner’s quiet enjoyment of their residence. These nuisance prohibitions are generally broadly drawn, and associations can benefit from clarifying those vague provisions to provide guidelines that are clear and easier to enforce. For example, rules can limit construction activity to certain hours, prohibit cigarette smoking near doorways and balconies, or define what qualifies as “persistent” barking by a dog. Adopting clear rules like these will assist boards of directors to enforce the regulations consistently and effectively, and to avoid the appearance of arbitrary or discriminatory actions.
For nuisance complaints that fall outside of any clear adopted rules, it is often most effective to resolve them informally. Boards can encourage communication between neighbors when appropriate or can provide information about mediation and alternative dispute resolution. If needed the board could also obtain the assistance of a professional to help resolve the issue.
Ultimately, noises, smells, and other annoyances are part of living in a free society. Still, associations can help their owners and community by adopting clear guidelines and regulations so that disputes can be addressed and resolved.
The attorneys at Smith Jadin Johnson, PLLC have worked extensively with associations and communities to adopt and enforce clear and consistent covenants, rules, and restrictions. If you or your association have any questions about this or any other issues affecting your community, please contact our office today.