Industry

Hard Flooring in Community Titles Schemes

The issue of noise transference from hard flooring in apartments (like timber and tiles) is a common source of dispute.

Even when a resident is using their lot for normal daily activities, inadequate soundproofing under their hard floors can have a significant and frustrating impact on adjacent lots.

Most bodies corporate have a by-law restricting noise likely to interfere with others. Also, section 167 of the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997 similarly prevents an occupier using or permitting the use of a lot or common property in a way that causes a nuisance or hazard or interferes unreasonably with the use or enjoyment of another lot or common property. Some bodies corporate have by-laws placing specific restrictions on hard flooring.

There are a range of factors that adjudicators will consider in a dispute about noise arising from hard flooring. (Into Ballymore [2012] QBCCMCmr 166 and Beau Monde [2011] QBCCMCmr 548 are examples of the treatment of these issues).

In any dispute alleging ‘unreasonable interference’ the complainant will bear the onus of presenting objective evidence that the conduct complained of was of such ‘volume and frequency’ that it would interfere with another resident of ‘ordinary sensitivity’. This test was set by the president of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal in Norbury v Hogan [2010] QCATA 027.

In noise disputes, a report by an appropriately qualified acoustic engineer is usually considered necessary to provide such objective evidence.

The Building Code of Australia establishes a minimum standard regarding noise transference between lots. The BCA criteria have been consistently held by adjudicators as an appropriate guide to the level of noise transference that is objectively reasonable. However this is considered to be a very low standard. The Australian Association of Acoustical Engineers has a star rating guide, with recommended noise transference standards for 2, 3, 4 and 5 star buildings. The AAAE ratings are seen as complementing the BCA requirements with the acoustic standards that may be expected by occupiers of different standards of accommodation.

Adjudicators consider how acoustic test results compare to the BCA and AAAE levels. They will consider the degree of any divergence with the standards; differences across the apartment; the level of sound insulation under the flooring; and the impact of any noise transference on the complainant.

Other issues to consider include whether any specific by-law requirements regarding hard floors were complied with and whether the complainants have followed the preliminary procedures for disputes about by-law issues.

If an adjudicator finds unreasonable noise transference, they may require the lot owner to replace the hard floors with carpet or install greater levels of sound insulation under the floor. Less substantial requirements that any owner involved in such a noise dispute should consider, include:

• floor rugs and carpets, with insulated backing, in high traffic areas;
• felt pads under furniture legs;
• soft closers on cupboard doors;
• removing shoes when inside the apartment; and
• minimising noisy activities, such as keeping the volume on TVs and stereos as low as possible and avoiding loud games.

Occupiers who experience noise transference could also investigate whether there is any scope to install sound insulation on their side of the floor, ceiling or wall.

Any apartment owner who is considering replacing their flooring should check their by-laws and ensure adequate soundproofing is installed to avoid any adverse impact on their neighbours. Parties are also encouraged to raise any concerns politely, constructively and as early as possible.

For further information on the legislative provisions affecting noise disputes, or for other information about the act, contact the Commissioner’s Office Information Service on freecall 1800 060 119 or visit www.justice.qld.gov.au/bccm .

Robert Walker
BCCM

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