Barking dogs are plaguing residents in community housing schemes like sectional title complexes and residential estates, and disrupting those who are working from home.
It is a new symptom of the work-from-home business model, says specialist sectional title attorney and BBM Law director Marina Constas, who has noted an increasing number of enquiries about the noise nuisance of dogs barking excessively.
“Social media platforms serving community housing stakeholders are filled with questions from residents on both sides of the fence – those who are at their wits end because of incessant barking as well as dog owners who feel that their pooches are being unfairly hounded by unreasonable, over-sensitive neighbours.”
One resident speculated that the complaints may be a symptom of Covid-19 and the lockdowns, with stressed people having little tolerance for noise of any kind, including barking dogs.
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“It may also be that people working from home are demanding more peace and quiet. It is not ideal to have to conduct a virtual meeting with barking dogs in the background.
“Another problem could be that, with the pandemic easing and companies relaxing their work-from-home regulations, there may actually be an increasing number of lonely dogs barking their way through the day until their owners get home from the office. Whatever the reason, this is a tricky issue for residents, sectional title trustees, and the directors of homeowners associations.”
Constas advises that the complainant and the dog owner try to resolve the dispute amicably.
“When living in close proximity in a complex or estate, there has to be compromise between neighbours. If a case like this does go to the Community Schemes Ombud Service (CSOS), the adjudicator will want to see what internal mediation was undertaken first.
“I recommend that the parties investigate the situation thoroughly and look at what is causing the barking and how the problem might be mitigated. They should consider, for example, whether the dog is barking for no reason, or just when someone walks past the property. Is the dog barking in the middle of the night, or just during the day? Is the barking really incessant and unreasonable?”
Although residents are entitled to reasonable quiet, she says a complex may not stipulate in its conduct rules that silence must be maintained.
“This is not reasonable. If fines for nuisance noise like barking dogs are provided for in the rules of conduct, then the homeowners association or body corporate may issue a fine to the offending resident, if the clause complies with the law.”
Constas says that trustees or directors of homeowners associations have a fiduciary duty to become involved in a dispute like this and try to help the parties to resolve it.
“If internal mediation does not work, and the case goes to CSOS, they would also be required to appear at the hearing. In many cases, however, they do appoint the managing agent to go to the CSOS hearing.”
She advises complainants who have explored all other avenues and decided to then approach CSOS to resolve a dispute about a dog barking to have a diary detailing the dates and times of the noise nuisance.
“The adjudicator will want to see a detailed journal of events. A recording may be helpful, too. I would also recommend obtaining affidavits from other residents who are being disturbed by the barking. The onus is on the complainant to collect all of this evidence, not on the trustees or directors.”
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In addition to work-from-home routines, there is also a lot more activity closer to home which means more noise, states the Seeff Property Group. Furthermore, with more people working from home, the numbers of visitors and home deliveries are, no doubt, also set to increase.
Neighbourhoods and even complexes might not be quite as peaceful as they used to be. Loud music, noisy get-togethers, barking dogs, and cars in your driveway could be just some of the disturbances that neighbours need to deal with these days.
Regardless of the new norms, Gerhard van der Linde, managing director for Seeff Pretoria East, states that the law still applies, and that everyone has the right to enjoy their property without discomfort. Interfering with the rights of neighbours could result in legal consequences.
He outlines the basic rules concerning noise and neighbourliness:
•Reasonable noise such as gardening and building work is acceptable between 6am and 6pm, and party noise to about 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Thereafter, party noise must be turned down.
•Dogs may not bark incessantly. Speak to the neighbour, they may not even be aware of the problem, but if it persists, you can report it to local law enforcement.
Additional rules apply to complexes and estates, and Van der Linde says part of the attraction of living in such a property is that it is well-managed and, hence, often has stricter rules with regard to noise and parking.
While the same rules and curfews regarding loud music and noise apply, each complex and estate will have their own conduct rules, and property owners and tenants must adhere to these or face sanctions. There is usually a process to deal with contravention, starting with a verbal warning, then a written warning and often, a monetary fine.
“Generally start with a friendly neighbourly chat before escalating it to the management body or, as a last resort, going the legal route. If the problem persists, you must raise it with the body corporate and managing agents for action.”