Tribunal decision reveals strata's struggle to find strange noise

A recent decision from B.C.'s Civil Resolution Tribunal tells a bizarre tale about a mysterious noise in a concrete building that has led to hundreds of complaints, tens of thousands of dollars in fines, the consultation of acoustic engineers and the draining of a heating and cooling system.

It started when a man, only identified as RK in Wednesday's decision, heard a "tapping noise" coming from his bedroom ceiling in his North Vancouver condo in the summer of 2020.

He heard it again in November 2021, and by January 2022, "the noise frequency increased to once or twice per week," the decision said. RK asked his upstairs neighbour Alan Zenuk if he could help him find the source of the noise, but Zenuk refused, according to the decision.

RK complained to his strata about the "unreasonable noise" in April 2022, claiming the frequency of the noise "increased significantly over time." He heard "percussive strikes, tapping, scraping, dragging and clunking noises" during the day and night, according to the decision.

The noise debacle escalated, with RK making 443 noise complaints to the strata from April 2022 to November 2023, the decision said. The strata fined Zenuk at least $42,600. Throughout all of this, the strata unsuccessfully attempted to find the source of the noise.

The tribunal ruled to reverse Zenuk's fines, finding the process for imposing the penalties "significantly unfair."

Where's the noise?

Zenuk denies that he or his condo is the source of the unreasonable noise. He told the tribunal that he and his wife can't hear the noise when they're home, so they can't control it.

A significant amount of effort was put into investigating where the noise came from.

RK recorded the noise on a sound level meter app over 100 times, according to the tribunal. He says the peak sound level was 73.8 decibels, and the average level was 58.2. The World Health Organization recommends that noise in bedrooms be less than 30 decibels for good sleep.

The strata canvassed other strata units in the 24-unit building and determined the noise could only be heard in RK's condo, according to the decision.

RK recorded the mysterious noise on a sound level meter app more than 100 times. (Shutterstock)
RK recorded the mysterious noise on a sound level meter app more than 100 times. (Shutterstock)

Zenuk suggested that the noise could be caused by a mechanical system in the building. A contractor then turned off the building's heating and cooling system pumps. RK still made at least four noise complaints while the pumps were off, according to the decision, so the strata ruled out the heating and cooling system as the culprit.

Experts were then called in.

The strata contacted "several" acoustic engineers, who suggested that Zenuk and RK leave their apartments for several days so that they could conduct testing, which would cost as much as $8,000.

Cooling and heating system drained

That plan was abandoned, but one engineer suggested that "if the heating and cooling system was the source of the noise, draining it could help determine the cause," according to the tribunal decision.

Despite draining the system and turning off the pumps, a strata council member still heard the noise in RK's unit, the tribunal said.

Zenuk argued to the tribunal that since the strata can't precisely say what's causing the noise, he can't be blamed for it. He sought $5,000 in damages from the strata and a reversal of the fines against him, which he has not paid.

"He says that in February 2022, he put felt pads on his furniture, and he has started avoiding his bedroom as much as possible and going to bed later, but otherwise, there is nothing he can do," wrote tribunal member Sarah Orr.

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The tribunal dismissed Zenuk's claim for $5,000 in damages but reversed his fines. (Stefan Malloch/Shutterstock)

While damages were not granted, the tribunal found the strata council did not inform Zenuk about the fines in a timely manner and reversed the penalties.

A hearing was held in September 2022 for the strata to decide whether to fine Zenuk. The Strata Property Act required the council give him a written decision within one week of the hearing. But he didn't get the decision until six months later, the tribunal found.

Orr called the delay "prejudicial" to Zenuk, noting that Zenuk continued to be fined within that six-month period.

The strata also broke the one-week rule again by waiting more than two months to give  Zenuk a written decision after another hearing.

"Zenuk had a reasonable expectation that the strata would follow the [Act]," Orr said.