Can my downstairs neighbor sue me for walking?
I just recently bought my first condo and from day one my downstairs neighbor, who also owns his unit, has complained about the noise we're generating. It has been a little over a year and after several letters and meetings we have not been able to resolve the issue and I think he is getting ready to take legal action.
My unit is a 2bd, 2bath on the 3rd floor. The place has hardwood/laminate flooring and I do understand that it can be loud, however I feel they are being unreasonable. Their first complaint was the day we moved in, and although it was late (maybe 12:30 am) we were actually done moving hours ago and just walking around and settling in, not moving furniture or anything. Like Seneca's post, I immediately had a sinking feeling this was a bad sign. Since then they've complained about us numerous times either directly to us or through the HOA Board or complex management company. However, since no one else is complaining about us, the HOA and mgt co. said there's nothing they can do about issues solely between two parties.
I truly do not want to be the noisy neighbor, but I think I've done all I can. We've bought large area rugs for the living room, hallway, and masterbedroom. I'd even consider buying more carpeting, but I recently went back to school and have limited funds. We do not wear shoes in the unit and we don't have any pets or kids. I am a grad student and my other roommates have regular full-time jobs. They generally go to bed by 10:30pm, while I stay up studying. We do not listen to music or tv loudly or have ever had any parties. We know not to do noisy chores too early or late. The neighbor's complaints aren't even about the noise during those sensitive late night/early morning hours. Their latest complaint was about "excesssive, loud walking between 6-8:15 pm." After 10pm I try really hard to be quiet and practically walk on my tippytoes. Actually, except for that first day moving in, none of their complaints have been regarding anything after 10pm.
I am 5'1, about 113 lbs and do not consider myself a stomper or heavy walker. I've lived in apartments for the past 10 years, the last 5+ of which was in hardwood floor units above others and have never had a noise complaint. I'm positive I'm not walking any differently than I have in these other places. My other roommates are also not particularly heavy walkers and have all have plenty of experience living in apartments. I really think my situation now is a combination of poor building insulation and unreasonable expectations by my downstairs neighbors. I use to live in an old complex under a unit with hardwood floors and I could hear the person above me walking, but I just accepted that as part of apartmenting living.
Another significant issue is that my unit is the only one in the complex of 20 units with laminate flooring. The floors were put in by the previous owners, but one of my neighbors biggest points is that he claims he never had problems with the previous people who lived in my unit and walked on the same floors. However, I know that he had lots of problems with the previous owners and use to constantly complain about their 2 year old who cried and ran around as kids sometimes do. He stresses though that he never had problems with the adults walking. But I think if I had a kid running and screaming throughout my unit he wouldn't hear my foot steps either. Essentially he thinks we should be more consious of our walking, but I don't think I should feel terrified to move about in my own home, especially since I've added some carpeting, don't wear shoes, and try harder to be quiet at night. My neighbor just doesn't even want to ever hear us walking and claims it causes his girlfriend, who also lives there, migraines. I should also add that these people are about 30-40 yrs old, not elderly or anything.
My neighbor and I have exchanged many heated letters, had meetings where he came to see us walking and we went down to hear the noise we were making, etc. I even suggested mediation, but he said he's "considering all his options."
At this point I've really had it with the harrassment and think maybe I should take some action first. I'm a pretty patient, cooperative person, but there's only so much I can take. From day one, he's made me feel uncomfortable to be here. After living in aparments since I graduated from high school 10 years ago I've never had neighbor issues before this. I'd even consider moving, except I just bought the place last year and with the current real estate market I don't think I can afford to.
I've read a lot of the posts here from people in situations similar and I really sympathize with you guys. Does anyone have any advice on what I should do and what my options are if my neighbor does sue me? Can he really sue me for walking? While I'm not worried that I've done anything wrong, I do worry about the cost and time that it would take to defend myself. Or is there some way my neighbor can force me to install carpeting? Did anyone's noise issues get to the point of legal action and if so what were your experiences? I live in California.