Myra Harris was ready to tear her hair out. She loved her condo on the fourth floor of the Federal Fibre Mills building in New Orleans’s historic and trendy Warehouse District—and who wouldn’t, with its high ceilings, cypress-wood beams, exposed-brick walls and a view of the Mississippi River? But life there had become a nightmare.
Myra’s big headache started when the owner of the unit below leased it in September 2001 to a middle-aged woman. Suddenly Myra was being jolted awake between midnight and six in the morning when the new tenant blasted the television or stereo at full volume, Myra said in court documents.
TV noise wasn’t even the worst of it. On numerous occasions, Myra said, the woman would wail and scream in the early morning hours. Myra also claimed that the tenant held loud parties that lasted late into the night. Myra said in her court petition that her neighbor would bang on the ceiling and pipes with a hard object for hours. The clanging echoed into Myra’s unit above. A number of times, she even called the New Orleans Police Department, which took hours to send officers.
To get away from the racket, Myra began sleeping in another neighbor’s condo when he was out of town. In the four months after the downstairs tenant’s arrival, Myra sent 17 letters of complaint to the condo board, asking it to take action. The board did nothing until January 2002, Myra asserted, when it sent the owner of the condo a letter saying it would enforce the rules.
Myra said that she reported the problem to building security, but nothing came of it, other than a visit from a guard, who made some notes in his log—but he eventually stopped responding to Myra’s calls.
She described another time when she called the police and waited for them in the building lobby in the early hours of the morning because of the din. The police told Myra that they could ticket the noisy neighbor, but whatever they did, the situation didn’t change.
Finally, Myra decided to file a lawsuit against the condo association, claiming it was responsible for the administration, operation and enforcement of the rules and restrictions that applied to all the condos on the property. Those rules, contained in a document called “The Declaration of Condominium Regime,” stated that no loud noise, music or other nuisances that would “disturb or annoy” other occupants of the building would be permitted between 11 p.m. and 9 a.m.
The rules also said that “no noxious or offensive activity” could go on at any time in any unit, and that any nuisance that is “a source of annoyance to residents” would not be allowed.
The declaration clearly gave the board the right to enforce the rules and to impose fines for violations. But, Myra claimed in her lawsuit, instead of helping her, the Federal Fibre Mills board told security personnel to stop responding to her complaints. She also asserted that it had failed to take prompt action against the owner of the condo, who had rented the unit to the problem tenant in the first place. Not until January 15 did the board finally send a letter to the owner saying it would enforce the rules, according to Myra’s petition. Eventually it fined the owner of the condo unit.
For Myra, it was too little, too late. She asked the court to award damages to her for the condominium board’s failure to enforce the building’s rules and for an “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” She claimed the tenant violated her right to enjoy her property without unreasonable disturbance. She also said that the board had failed in its responsibility to protect her rights.
The condo board, for its part, argued that Myra had no basis to make a legal claim. Although the declaration that contained the condo association rules stated that the board had a right to enforce the rules, it didn’t say that it had a duty to do so. The board added that there was no Louisiana law that imposed such a duty. The board contended that it had the absolute right to enforce—or not enforce—the condo rules and restrictions. The choice, it said, was up to the board.
Should Myra Harris be compensated for her disturbed peace? You be the judge.
Next: The Verdict »
Both the trial court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal of Louisiana found that Myra Harris failed to make her case.
While she correctly stated that the condominium association had the right to enforce its rules, regulations and restrictions, and to impose fines for violations, both courts agreed that a right is not a duty.
The Louisiana Condominium Act, which lists the powers of an owners’ association, allows—but doesn’t require—condo associations to adopt restrictions on unit owners and to enforce them. Though Myra certainly had a problem and the condo board’s provisions clearly stated it could fine those who disturbed the peace, the board was not required by law to enforce the rules so that she could enjoy her property.
After the decision, Myra moved out and bought a house. She never wanted to deal with a condo board again.
Was justice served? Should the condo board be required to take action on behalf its tenants? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.