Our neighbour upstairs has removed their carpets: Are they breaching their lease?

My partner and I live in the ground floor flat of a period conversion. Our new neighbour above has decided to carry out a full scale renovation.

This has included removing all the carpets and replacing the old flooring with what we suspect to be either laminate or wood.

The noise wasn’t great before but now it’s unbearable. Every footstep can be heard loud and clear. It’s like being on the inside of a drum kit.

We have checked our lease and it says that the floors need to be carpeted. Will this likely be the same in their lease?

Noisy neighbours: Our reader believes their neighbour may be in breach of their lease by removing the carpet from the floors.

Noisy neighbours: Our reader believes their neighbour may be in breach of their lease by removing the carpet from the floors.

We have told them that the noise is now unbearable but they just shrugged as if it wasn’t their problem.

Either they need to fix what they have done or we will be forced to sell and move on. The latter does not seem fair to us.

How can we challenge them on this? If they tampered with the floor shouldn’t they have had to install some soundproofing? Via email.

Ed Magnus of This is Money replies: Noise disputes such as these are a common problem. Unfortunately, for those living in flat conversions, the chances of being at the mercy of non-existent soundproofing or loud neighbours’ is almost a given.

Approaching your neighbour and discussing the issue in a diplomatic fashion should always be the first step.

That might involve discussing the prospect of installing soundproofing between the flats and splitting the cost.

If that fails, then it may be time to explore more extreme avenues.

To help provide advice to our reader we spoke to Paula Higgins, founder of the HomeOwners Alliance and Gary Rycroft, solicitor and partner at law firm Joseph A. Jones & Co.

We also spoke to Phil Lyons senior technical advisor at the Soundproofing Store and Anna Thompson, head of engagement at Local Authority Building Control in England and Wales.

Diplomacy: The first course of action should always be to try and resolve the matter amicably with your neighbours.

Diplomacy: The first course of action should always be to try and resolve the matter amicably with your neighbours.

What should they do first?

Paula Higgins: The first port of call is to check the neighbours’ lease. If you have a clause that states that the floors need to be carpeted then it is likely that your neighbour will have the same obligation.

You could start by getting them to hear the noise first hand and pointing out that they are in breach of their lease. 

I do not know if you own the freehold with your neighbours’ or if there is a separate freeholder. If there is a freeholder, you can alert the freeholder to the situation.

The freeholder can issue a warning or start legal proceedings against your neighbours’ for breaching their lease.

If you own a share of the freehold with your neighbours’, you could look to take them to the First Property Tribunal.

But this should be seen as a last resort as disputes with neighbours’ can be stressful and turn nasty.

What if the neighbour is breaching the lease?

Gary Rycroft replies:  It is grossly unfair that you feel you may have to sell up due to selfish behaviour from your neighbours’. 

I would also call it unlawful behaviour in that you have the benefit of a lease which has an express covenant for the floor to be carpeted.

A covenant of this kind in a lease is a legally binding promise to either do or not do a certain thing.

In this case, the requirement for the floors in your building to be carpeted, will be a deliberate decision taken at the time the leases were set up to protect the enjoyment of the building for all of the occupiers.

The question is how to enforce the covenant. The answer to that is the owner of the freehold often has the right to take action against any leaseholder who breaches any covenant in the lease.

You do not say who your freeholder is. In a converted period building it may be each of the individual flats owns a share of the freehold. Or your leases may be set up so you as a neighbouring flat can enforce the covenants in the leases of the other flats.

The ultimate sanction for breaches of covenants in a lease is often for the offender to forfeit the lease which means lose their flat.

That should make them sit up and take this seriously. Try a friendly but firm approach first to explain all of this, before you draft in the big guns of specialist solicitor to write letter of claim.

What happens if someone forfeits their lease?

Gary Rycroft replies: It is a lengthy procedure which leads to forfeit because the point is the leaseholder loses the lease with no payment.

So it is a proper sanction with teeth, but in 25 years I have never seen it get to that as leaseholders see sense before they put such a big asset at risk.

Has their neighbour ignored building regulations?

Anna Thompson replies: For existing apartments there are no relevant building regulations or requirements where flooring is being replaced.

As a last resort, you might also want to consider installing remedial sound insulation which can be expensive but is very successful providing it is designed and installed by acoustic experts.

If you did sell, you’d have to declare the problem with the neighbours so it’s probably better to get the issue sorted and stay put.

Good vibrations: Adding a soundproofing layer to your flooring can help reduce the impact noise caused by footfall from above.

Good vibrations: Adding a soundproofing layer to your flooring can help reduce the impact noise caused by footfall from above.

How does soundproofing work?

Phil Lyons replies: Unfortunately, this is a common problem with current fashion trends promoting hard floors more than carpet.

The harder the floor surface is, the more impact vibration is created through things like footfall, dragging furniture etc. That vibration can then easily spread through the structure to your side.

If you can force your neighbour to install soundproofing, you want to use a product which adds both mass to the floor to reduce the airborne part of the sound, but also resilience to cushion the impact on the floor and reduce the force of the impact, therefore minimising the vibration.

If you need to solve the problem on your side, you can greatly increase the sound reduction of your ceiling by installing a suspended, resilient, acoustic ceiling.

This will again add extra mass to the structure to block the airborne part of the sound, but instead of being fixed rigidly to the structure, allowing vibration to travel through it, it is de-coupled from the structure, allowing the ceiling to dampen and absorb the vibration.

Are there any other alternatives to soundproofing?

Ed Magnus of This is Money replies: One potential avenue worth considering is whether you could take legal action against the developer or builder and potentially force them to pay for improvements.  

Soundproofing regulations for residential homes came into force in July 2003 and these also cover flat conversions. They place certain requirements on separating walls, floors and ceilings between different properties.

If you feel your home contravenes these rules, you could take legal action against the developer or builder and potentially force them to pay for improvements.

This would require you taking a sound test to prove that the noise was at an unacceptable level.  

However, the regulations don’t apply retrospectively – so if your flat was converted before 2003, there is no legal action that can be taken against the developer or builder.

Nuisance: If your neighbour is making anti-social amounts of noise such as having a dog that constantly barks or late night parties then the local council may investigate the matter.

Nuisance: If your neighbour is making anti-social amounts of noise such as having a dog that constantly barks or late night parties then the local council may investigate the matter.

If the noise from above is becoming anti-social – such as late night parties, loud music or barking dogs, you may be able to report it as a nuisance to your local council.

However, if the noise is occurring from normal day-to-day living rather than anti-social activities, then complaining to the council will almost certainly be unsuccessful.

In this case, your neighbour merely walking around the property would probably not be deemed as anti-social. 

Therefore, in all likelihood, the best solution will be to try and come to an amicable solution with your neighbour.

It may also be worth investigating the practicality and cost of soundproofing.

And if the worst comes to the worst (if your neighbour’s lease is the same as your’s), you can challenge them for breaching the terms of their lease by removing the carpet.

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