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Jess Knows Best! Advice on love, life, and more for the modern geek and geekette!

Jess Knows Best

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Dear Jess,

What's up Jess? I just wanted to let you know, I'm digging your column! I’m curious to know how you would respond to a current situation the wife and I have been dealing with.

We’re in a state of war with our upstairs neighbor. He's a pseudo hippie (too young to have been a real hippie), and he fancies himself a musician. He plays guitar and some sort of whistle. He usually starts at exactly 8am (the end of our building's quiet hours), and tends to play continuously until evening time. I am a writer and I work at home. We can hear him all throughout our apartment, wiping away the possibility of getting any of my work done.

We recently discovered he has a Kryptonite: Hip-Hop. He hates it so much he starts stomping around when we play it. So now we aim the speakers at the ceiling and bump the Public Enemy. Unfortunately, he's started fighting through it and continues to play anyway. Now I fear we need a new Kryptonite.

What would you suggest? Oh, and we already went to the condo's board of directors who told us we don't have a valid complaint against the guy upstairs.

And you're right, there's no way to answer the Star Trek v. Star Wars argument. It's like comparing apples and oranges. Next you're going to have to discuss Kirk v. Picard.

Mr. Gone Insane
Seattle, WA

Dear Mr. Gone Insane:

I’m not surprised your condo’s Board of Directors said you don’t have a valid complaint. Keep in mind that the Board is not paid for their services, and will usually do as little as possible in order to avoid being in the middle of others’ conflicts. In better news, I have a bit of experience with this topic: 1) As a paralegal, my office represented condo owners that had disputes with their condo association; and 2) I’ve had a dispute with a fellow condo owner.

As someone with severe asthma (exacerbated by heat and allergies), it’s critical that I stay away from cigarette smoke and other harmful odors, etc. Unfortunately, when our downstairs neighbor decided he didn’t want to stink up his condo with cigarette smoke, he decided it would be perfectly fine to smoke on his patio (right beneath our patio).

During the summer months, our third floor condo traps heat like Hades. To combat this, we open up all the windows and prop as many fans in front of them as possible to create a draft. When our neighbor would go out to smoke on his patio, the smoke would come straight up, and then pipe directly into the living room. Assuming our neighbor would be nice about the situation, I politely knocked on his door and asked him if he’d mind smoking on his front porch instead of the back patio. I explained that I have sometimes severe asthma and a small child, and that I generally just didn’t want our condo to smell like smoke. He agreed to stop, but then persisted anyway throughout the summer. After numerous phone calls to the Board of Directors and the condo management office, the Board decided I had no claim. This was just months after they published a newsletter that said in part: “Please be courteous of your neighbors. Some neighbors may have allergies or medical conditions that are made worse by certain odors or smells.”

Not one to take “no” for an answer, I requested they send me a copy of the condo’s Bylaws and Declarations. Every condo association has them, and every condo owner is entitled to have a copy. In the Declarations, I found a provision that basically speaks about an owner’s right to not have their space infringed upon by noxious odors, noises, etc. I made multiple copies of the page, underlining the appropriate verbiage, and then each time our neighbor would smoke on his patio, I’d quietly tape another copy of the provision to his door, log the date and time in a journal, and then send another “notification” email to the Board.

In your case, there are a few things you can do:

• Get a copy of your Bylaws and Declarations.

o Look for any provisions that reference an owner’s right to enjoy their space free from noxious odors, noises, etc. Most Bylaws and Declarations are written from a common template, so it’s likely that yours are similar to mine (especially since we’re both in Washington).

o Look for any provisions that reference whether you’re allowed to have a “home occupation”, then read their definition of a “home occupation.” They are typically defined by whether you have customers, etc., so I’m guessing the profession of “writer” would be allowed without issue. Regardless, it’s good to know where you stand.

• Now that you’re prepared with your paperwork, write a letter to the Board of Directors and enclose a copy of the page of the Bylaws that references an owner’s right to enjoy their space free from noxious odors, noises, etc. (assuming there is one). Send a copy via first class mail, and the original via first class mail, return receipt requested. Make sure to state in the letter that you’d like “a response, in writing, within 10 days of the date of this letter.” This should, at the very least, get their attention, and you’ll force them to fully investigate and review the situation before responding.

• As an alternative to all of the above, you could also try calling the local police department’s business phone number during daytime hours. Explain the situation and see whether they would be able to assist with a noise complaint. The chances are high they’ll say no, but every once in a while you might find a cop that’s willing to give it a try anyway.

I realize this is all a lot to take in, but the best way to combat these types of situations is to do it via paper. Please feel free to update me once you get your condo Declarations. I’d be curious to see how much they differ from my own.

Good luck!


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