HOA & Noise Complaint

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Forum topic by Chris Speights posted 11-15-2012 04:20 AM 12483 views 1 time favorited 122 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Chris Speights

129 posts in 3641 days

11-15-2012 04:20 AM

I am hoping this is the right place to start a topic like this, but if not, I apologize.

I am reaching out to any law knowledgable people and/or anyone with first hand experience in this.

I live in a neighborhood. I work out of my garage and unfortunately, my neighborhood is in a deed restricted community. I have been woodworking about 12-18 months, now, I guess. I do it nearly every day. I have never had anyone physically and come complain about the noise. I am generally respectful when it comes to when I operate the machinery. I don’t do it before 8-9 am (usually on the weekends) and I won’t run it too late (after 8 pm) as I have two small children of my own.

About three weeks ago, I was out of the country on business and my wife called me and told me we had got a complaint letter from the HOA. It basically said that the noise level from my machinary was getting bothersome and perhaps if I could not work in my garage every day and only on the weekends. Obviously that’s not going to happen. So, when i got home, I blew it off and just thought maybe I had started working too early or worked too late.

I have been home about 2 weeks, now and today I got another letter. It quoted something from the deed restrictions that say something along the lines of “no noxious activity”, blah, blah, blah. So, since I was definitely aware of the times I have started my machinery in the past two weeks, it’s starting to sound like this person that is complaining is just complaining in general about the machines.

So, what do I do? I mean, besides, move…haha. We are actually planning on moving in about 4-6 months, but I don’t want to stop woodworking for the next 6 months, all together. I have been reading and it sounds like enoforcing this “noxious activity” claim is difficult when it comes to noise because it may be annoying to one, but not to others. But, on the other hand, I don’t want to take that chance and continue ignoring the letters. I doubt there is a chance they will tell me who it is that is complaining so I could speak to them and further understand what it is exactly they don’t like…

So, just hoping to find a little guidance here. Any input or experience you might have would be greatly appreciated! Afterall, it is almost Christmas and it is sort of difficult for me to create gifts without my tools…haha. I don’t have the time or knowledge to do them by hand.

Thanks in advance,


EDIT Two things…first, I am so sorry this got so long winded.

Second, this is the exact verbiage from the deed restrictions the HOA management company quoted in the letter:

“Section 6. Prohibition of offensive activities. No
activity, whether for profit or not, shall be carried on on any
Lot which is not related to single family residential purposes.
No noxious or offensive activity of any sort shall be permitted
nor shall anything be done on any Lot which may be, or may
become, an annoyance or a nuisance to the neighborhood. This
restriction is waived in regard to the normal sales activities
required to sell homes in the subdivision and the lighting
effects utilized to display the model homes.”

122 replies so far

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 4294 days

#1 posted 11-15-2012 04:37 AM


I don’t have any legal advice, but I can certainly empathize with your dilemma.

The first thing I’d recommend doing is to understand which of your machines are the biggest offenders. This may take a helper, but try to figure out which operations make the most noise or the most annoying sounds AT THE STREET. It’s easy for us to think we know which tools are the loudest, but sometimes those aren’t necessarily the ones that are most bothersome at a distance. If you have a helper put load on some of your tools, you can hear them from a neighborly distance and see how bad it is for yourself.

If you hear it for yourself and decide the noise complaints are reasonable (i.e., there’s actually a decent amount of noise that is getting to your neighbors), then you have a few choices:

1) Do nothing. Obviously, this is risky. Angry neighbors and angry HOAs can make your life difficult.

2) Invest in serious soundproofing for your garage. This is obviously easier for some garages than others. It might be as simple as adding an additional layer of drywall and some insulation, or using a more expensive product like Quietrock. Add a layer of insulation to your garage door if you don’t have some there already. Caulk and seal any areas where sound might be escaping. Don’t open the garage door when you work.

3) Invest in quieting your tools. Focus on the tools you use most. Sure, some tools you can’t really make that much quieter (e.g. the tablesaw). But upgrading a benchtop planer to a stationary might get you a better machine AND a quieter machine. There are quieter shopvacs (e.g. Fein and Festool). Obviously you can’t go and replace/upgrade all your tools, but perhaps sound levels will have to be a factor when making purchasing decisions (it is for me for similar reasons).

4) Shift operations to quieter machines. For example, ripping on the bandsaw instead of the TS when you can. Avoiding noisy circular and miter saws as much as possible.

If you make even mild efforts at #2, 3, and 4, at least you can point that out to the HOA or the people who are complaining if push comes to shove. If your noise was bothering me, I’d be at least somewhat comforted that you cared and made as much effort as you could to mitigate the issue.

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 4442 days

#2 posted 11-15-2012 04:57 AM

I’d get a decibel meter and have somebody monitor noise levels from the street at various tasks with various tools.

That will give you objective measurements as well as a defense should the HOA complaints continue.

I’d also find out who the higher-ups are in the HOA and see if any of them live by you. I would approach them personally and call them a coward for not investigating it face to face. I would then send my kids out to fork their lawn. :)

I’d also consider approaching a lawyer about the issue to see if some sort of cease and desist order can be issued…mental stress, and all that.

But mostly I would respond to the HOA letting them know that steps have been taken to reduce the noise (even if you didn’t), showing them the decibel data, as well as highlighting the fact that weekends are when most people are in their homes, not weekdays. This is probably all they need to hear. HOA leaders have little man’s syndrome and this is their opportunity to play God for a while. They just want you to respond, recognizing their authoriTAH.

After that, since you are moving anyway, I’d likely blow them off. ;)

-- jay,

View casual1carpenter's profile


354 posts in 3759 days

#3 posted 11-15-2012 05:21 AM

Chris, I’m confused by the fact that I think that you are saying you have been woodworking in your garage for 12 to 18 months. Now all of a sudden you are getting noise complaint notices? Did something change? Did you put on new equipment or begin using some tools more frequently? You mentioned a wife and children, they may be a bit biased but do they notice a lot of noise? I peeked at your profile, your kind of far south even for texas, lol, could the change of season and turning off the air conditioners be an issue? Do you have a right to face your accuser? There could be a valid reason that could be easily reminded. I used to work shift work at times and the worlds morning was the middle of my night. It’s just my thought that who ever is filing the complaints ought to be able to give valid reasons if not to your face then through the people they are complaining to.

View Gshepherd's profile


1727 posts in 3485 days

#4 posted 11-15-2012 05:35 AM

Cosmic thinks a lot like me….. I have had major run in with HOA and it was over pity crap…. I went and spoke to the president at his house and he was a total arse….. Got fined 25 per day for violations…. Pity b.s. stuff…

Rumor has it several weeks later a couple of suits made the visit to the President at his house had some coffee and everything settled down quite a bit…. Just a rumor though….. 3 weeks later I got a notice that the fines would be waived. So it must have been some City stuff that settled them down a bit…..

-- What we do in life will Echo through Eternity........

View JesseTutt's profile


854 posts in 3394 days

#5 posted 11-15-2012 06:14 AM


First I am not a lawyer and cannot give you legal advice. That said, here is how I would proceed if I was in your place.

First, find copies of your HOA agreement, deed, and any other related documents. Read and try to understand them. Most states have something about a contract having to be readable and understandable by a “reasonable person” to be enforceable.

Start documenting your woodworking activities. Day and time started, and time stopped. Look at moving your start time till latter in the morning, say after 9 a.m. on weekdays and after 10 on weekends. Stop earlier. Document this. This will show that you are attempting to be compliant. If you by chance have an alarm, see if you can put the workshop on a separate zone. Always turn the alarm on when you are not in the shop and have the alarm company keep a record of when you activate and deactivate the alarm.

Find a company that has a sound meter and have them take sound readings inside and outside of your shop while you are doing woodworking. Have them take sound readings at the edge of your property. At best you should receive a written report of when, where the measurements were taken and the sound level. Ask that the report specify the device used to take the sound level (Make and model), how (calibration method) and when it was calibrated. Make sure that this company is qualified to do these measurements and that the person actually doing the measurements is also certified to make those measurements. Get a list of the person’s certification(s). Get a written bill from them and pay it by check.

Write the Home Owners Association a letter acknowledging their previous letters and ask for clarification. You may want to tell them that pending clarification you are disputing their claims (but nicely). You want them to provide specifics (examples of when and how you are supposed to violate the agreement and what sections you have violated). The section you quoted appears to be extremely vague. The absolute best would be for them to specifically list when and what you did wrong. If you can prove that you were not woodworking at that time then you can raise doubt with the “trier of fact” (judge or jury) and they may discount (doubt) the times where you were actually woodworking. Personally, I would ask someone (not a family member) to proofread the letter, then you sign it in their presence, put it in an envelop and both of you take it to the post office and pay the postal clerk for postage getting a receipt. Get the name of the postal clerk. Do not explain why you want someone to help you with this. This begs the question of whether it should be sent “Certified Return Receipt”. If you do then you have additional proof that you sent it and that they received it. On the negative side it could appear more threatening or confrontational, and at this point you still want it to (appear) to be friendly.

Contact an attorney. You want to find one that specializes in this kind of law. It could be Contract Law or Real Estate law. (I don’t recall ever hearing of a specialization in Home Owner Association law.) Verify that they don’t have any conflicts of interest (present or past work for the HOA, the management company, or any members of the homeowners’ board). It is harder to find out the attorney’s win / loss percentage. (Even if they specialize in the correct area, don’t have any conflicts of interest, if they lose most of their cases you don’t want them.)

A good attorney will tell you not to discuss your case with anyone. I don’t think that an attorney can say this enough.

The more work you can do the less the attorney has to do so the cost will be less. Also, you want to establish (and document) as many facts as possible before the conflict becomes confrontational.

If you have fixed plans to move in 6 months, you might be able to drag out the letter / response for that long.

I recall reading something about a case that occurred somewhere in the Northeast. The conclusion was that only people within two houses around yours had “legal standing” to file suit or file a (valid) complaint with the city. This did not have anything to do with a HOA. You might see if you can get your neighbors to make public declarations (not answers to your questions) before (complenant non family) witnesses that they don’t have a problem with your woodworking or the times you do it. Make sure that the witnesses to these comments remember (and are willing to testify) them.

Again, I am not a lawyer so I cannot give legal advice. Yeks, I think I wrote a longer answer than you question.

Good luck.

-- Jesse, Saint Louis, Missouri

View dingotx1's profile


1 post in 3796 days

#6 posted 11-15-2012 08:41 AM

We had the same thing happen to us in a gated community in San Antonio, no-one ever came and said anything to us personally but the letters just kept coming. We found that the cheap foam insulation board cut to fit perfectly on the inside surface of the garage doors considerably decreased the noise audible from outside. It had the added bonus of keeping the workshop cooler/warmer to work in and wasn’t too heavy for the doors to cope with.

-- dingotx1

View Woodknack's profile


13585 posts in 3664 days

#7 posted 11-15-2012 09:10 AM

Yeah, insulate the garage doors and keep them shut. Also make nice with your immediate neighbors… build them some nice gifts. Before going to war just remember this is what you wanted, you chose this. I made the same mistake once and then got a nasty letter for doing car maintenance in my driveway that took ONE evening, never again.

-- Rick M,

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 4207 days

#8 posted 11-15-2012 11:33 AM

Things like this is why I will never live in a HOA again. I did in Las Vegas and it sucked. Everyone that can, will whine about something.
I read somewhere(maybe here??) some guy was working at 10:30 on Sunday morning and his neighbor came over and asked if he would quit….his KIDS WERE STILL IN BED!
I’d get the deibel meter readings and then approach the HOA for a definitive answer on what constitutes
“offensive activities” as far as noise goes. As soon as you find out who is complaining discuss it with them. Of course you have the ones that don’t want to listen to you. Then you complain their car is noisy and let them prove it isn’t.

-- Life is good.

View Chris Speights's profile

Chris Speights

129 posts in 3641 days

#9 posted 11-15-2012 12:56 PM

Thank you all for your responses. It sounds like most of what you all are saying are comperable to my thoughts, as well.

My wife has also suggesting working with the garage door down. I will likely test this this afternoon and see if it makes a large difference. If the difference is neglegible, I would rather have the door up, since I have a small garage. But, if it is significant, I can completely get behind shutting the door to run the tools. I mean, it’s not like any of us (usually) turn on a tool and just leave it running for more than a few minutes at a time. So, shutting the door during the machine usage wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

This is the first time in 18 months that anyone has complained, which is what makes this all the more confusing. I guess I should try to look at who is “new” to the neighborhood, perhaps it’s someone that has moved in within the past few months. The first letter stated that the person complaining stated that they were “patient”, thinking the noise would eventually stop, assuming I was working on a project that was taking me a few weeks…

I will keep you all posted. I am pretty furious about this and am trying not to respond out of emotion…which is why it’s very theraputic to get on here and gain perspective from all of you!

Again, thank you all.


I have started researching companies to take noise level measurements. So far, haven’t found much.

I plan on responding to the HOA, as I have literally no information/specifics on the particular offenses. Like I said, in the past two weeks since I have been back from Israel, I have been very aware of when I was running machines. But getting this second letter proves that the “offended” person just doesn’t like the sounds, at all, no mater the time of day.

I was thinking about going to the four closest neighbors this afternoon, which I know all of them, and talking to them to find out if any of this were them. I ultimately expect them all to say no, as at least 2 of the 4 have brought stuff over for me to fix. The other two I am friendly with, so would assume they would have come over themselves if they had a problem. With that said, one of the four is sort of a grumpy guy. He is nice enough, but very stand offish, and always has a scowl on his face. So, the problem with this is I am not sure what I exactly I would say if one of them did say it was them. If it wasn’t them, then as someone commented above, I feel that no one else would have the right to complain as the noise level beyond these four houses would be minimal.

View poopiekat's profile


4991 posts in 5018 days

#10 posted 11-15-2012 01:11 PM

Remember what happened to Beener…
I’d rather live in a cardboard box on a downtown sidewalk than struggle under the oppression of neighborhood associations.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View Milo's profile


869 posts in 4603 days

#11 posted 11-15-2012 01:12 PM

Hey Chris,

Remember, your not cutting/routing/jointing/planing wood 24/7. Usually your cutting in set period of time. All the other time your doing much quieter work!

I’m betting careful planning and some sound insulation in your garage will cover a multitude of “sins” for your neighbors.

We all have the A-hole neighbor that doesn’t have the Kahunas to talk to you face to face. I have 2! Ones on the board. Dried up old cuss. oops, I wander….

ANYWAY, They can’t keep you from woodworking if you plan properly. Good luck!

-- Beer, Beer, Thank God for Beer. It's my way of keeping my mind fresh and clear...

View lumberjoe's profile


2902 posts in 3532 days

#12 posted 11-15-2012 01:25 PM

Milo makes a good point. I don’t live in a deed restricted area and we don’t have an HOA, but I’ve had the cops come a few times for noise complaints. Both times were in the afternoon on a weekend and the cops were really cool about it and were more interested in what I was doing than telling me to knock it off. I’ve found some activities are much louder than others – plaining and routing for example. I have the luxury of working form home and a flexible schedule. Time permitting, I try to do all the really noisy stuff during normal business hours where most of (and the annoying complainer) neighbors are at work.

To play devils advocate, I know it’s your house and you want to do what you like to do, but you still need to be a responsible and considerate neighbor. As an example – a few years ago before we moved, my wife worked 3rd shift on weekends. We had a neighbor behind us that would sit out by the pool all day and BLAST classic rock stations. It was so loud and distracting, my wife could not sleep. I went over and explained the situation and asked him if he would mind keeping it down until about 3:30pm when she woke up. He agreed and did so without any hesitation.

I wonder if it is possible to use the HOA as a mediator and agree on a mutually agreeable time where you can go nuts and make some noise?


View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 4442 days

#13 posted 11-15-2012 01:28 PM

HOA’s are in place to protect property values and provide added safety to a neighborhood. The concept isn’t a bad thing. But like I said, you have people who use that as a channel for their own self-importance. If you demonstrate a willingness to work with them, you can usually work together towards a solution.

Then you can fork their lawn. ;)

-- jay,

View Ripthorn's profile


1459 posts in 4269 days

#14 posted 11-15-2012 01:28 PM

If you are working with the door up, definitely close it. It will make a very big difference. As for companies to take measurements, look into an acoustical consulting company, that is a large part of what they do. Sometimes they work as part of a larger engineering firm. I spent a good amount of time in the acoustics world, so I might be able to find someone in your area that is qualified. I’ll take a quick look.

-- Brian T. - Exact science is not an exact science

View Don W's profile

Don W

20244 posts in 3851 days

#15 posted 11-15-2012 01:29 PM

As with everyone else, I have no legal advice. And if your only planning to live there a few more months, then its probably not worth a fight anyhow. But a few notes that may or may not be useful.

I’ve found as I get older, the noise in my shop bothers me. To combat that, I’ve turned to hand tools, and love using them. It may be a win-win situation. My closest neighbor is 1/2 mile away, and they are both farms, so I can make noise till the cows come home, literally.

The statement
“No noxious or offensive activity of any sort shall be permitted
nor shall anything be done on any Lot which may be, or may
become, an annoyance or a nuisance to the neighborhood.”

Struck me as kind of funny. So if you walk out to get your paper in your bathrobe, and your neighbor thinks its an annoyance or a nuisance, you’ve broken the code? Yea, right.

I also agree with the sound insulation. I’d say go to town with it, but if your only there a few more months its not worth the investment. Maybe hang a few insulating blankets over the garage doors for now.

Good luck.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

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