With walls so thin, we hear neighbors' noise! Can we take action or sue the developer?

Dealing with noisy neighbors and flimsy walls in a common interest development.

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Question

I live in a development, where the houses are all pretty close together. I can hear every noise in my neighbor's house! Can I take action against them for bothering me, or against the developer for building flimsy walls?

Answer

Whether you have any right to go after your neighbors within a community development depends on how noisy they are. Whether you have a claim against your developer depends on whether you bought a pre-construction or existing home.

If your neighbors are excessively loud, they might be violating any of various noise regulations.

First, such regulations might exist within your community. To find out, review your development’s Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, Restrictions and Easements (CC&Rs), and any separate rules and regulations. If, for example, these place a limit on night-time noise levels, and your neighbors are consistently practicing drums at two in the morning, you can report the violation to your homeowners’ association (HOA). The HOA can enforce the noise rule against your neighbors, and hopefully bring peace and quiet to your nights.

Other noise regulations might also aid you. Your city’s building code, for example, might prohibit construction noise in the early morning, or a local ordinance might prohibit noise above a certain decibel level. If the neighbors are violating a local rule, point this out to your neighbors, and if that doesn’t work, contact your police department. (A police officer at the door might be just what’s needed for the neighbors to tone it down!)

You might also have a “nuisance” claim against your neighbors. To establish nuisance, however, you must show that your neighbors are so loud that the racket interferes with your use and enjoyment of your home. If you succeed in a nuisance suit, you might be awarded damages, or a court order requiring the neighbors to reduce the unacceptable noise.

As for a claim against the developer who sold you the home, if you purchased an existing home, you are probably out of luck. It’s the buyer’s responsibility to assess the home’s quality before completing the purchase. If you didn’t inspect the home before you bought (or the inspection didn’t reveal the flimsy walls), the developer is not liable for your mistake.

An exception might exist if the developer misrepresented the quality of the walls. If so, you could sue for misrepresentation. To be successful, however, you would need evidence of the misrepresentation (such as a written statement from the developer about the quality or soundproofing of the walls).

The developer might also be responsible if you purchased the home before it was built. The developer is required to construct the home according to the plans and specifications provided in the pre-construction purchase contract, and must also meet all building codes (which typically contain some soundproofing requirements). If the walls of your home vary from the specifications, or do not meet code (for example, if the insulation or drywall is a much lower quality than specified or required), you might have a legal claim against the developer.

Talk with an experienced attorney in your area to assess whether going after the developer in court is worthwhile. If all else fails, you can look into adding soundproofing to your walls, or consider selling and moving to a quieter home.

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