Be detailed when building a neighbour dispute case


John Devellis Headshot

The devil can be in the details when it comes to resolving disputes between condominium neighbours, says Toronto condominium lawyer John De Vellis.

There’s an adage that lists “people, pets and parking” as being the cause of most problems with other residents, and if you want to find a solution, you have to be willing to do a little work, says De Vellis, a partner with Shibley Righton LLP.

He tells there are rules that govern condominiums to foster a harmonious community. However, that doesn’t mean residents should expect “absolute silence because that’s not how it is in communal living,” De Vellis says.

While he deals with many different issues for clients living in condos, noise complaints are among the most common, he says.

“It's critically important that the complaints be documents with as much detail as possible,” says De Vellis.

“A common answer we get when we respond to the complaint is, ‘It’s only one person, nobody else is complaining.’ Sometimes that’s true, but often there’s a reason for that. It can depend on the configuration of the units, for example. Perhaps nobody else can hear it.”

He says it doesn’t matter if one person complains or five — although the more corroborating evidence, the better.

However, if a resident finds himself alone in the complaint, the best bet to resolve the issue is to document the incidents in detail and find witnesses whenever possible, De Vellis says.

In many cases — except for townhouse complexes — a condominium will have a concierge on duty, which offers an excellent opportunity to put the complaint on record by someone who can corroborate the incident, he says.

De Vellis says it’s important to encourage the concierge to include as much detail in their report as possible.

“It’s sometimes frustrating to read the concierge report because of the lack of specifics,” he says. “They will say they heard a noise, for example, but they don’t say from what distance, or how loud it was. I often advise my clients to get the concierge to write more specific, descriptive reports.”

De Vellis says questions can arise with vague reports.

“If the problem is not resolved, and you have to take some kind of legal action, the report from the concierge and the person complaining are the only records I have,” he says.

If it’s not detailed, those involved may not exactly remember what happened during a hearing that is months — or years — down the line, De Vellis says.

“I’m not talking about writing a novel, just something a little bit more descriptive. A few more sentences go a long way.”

He encourages people to be “really granular” with the details.

“Make it as detailed as possible because the more you have, the more credible it’s going to be,” De Vellis says. “Note the time, the actual words you hear, the programs they’re watching on TV, the music that was playing at the time. That kind of detail is usually very helpful.”

He says you can try recording what you hear, but be aware that the video- and tape-recording capabilities on some smartphones may not be sophisticated enough to pick up everything.

“We try it all the time, and the results are often underwhelming,” De Vellis says, adding that when cases are in dispute, they may have a sound test done, although it can be expensive.

“It’s also a good idea to involve the corporation’s lawyer early in the process,” he says.

“The bottom line is that the condo corporation has an obligation to enforce the rules,” says De Vellis. “But if legal proceedings are necessary, the judges will expect the corporation to present a thorough case that the noise is excessive.”


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