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Q: Homeowner's Association Rules & Regulations---Legal definition of 'reasonable' ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   6 Comments )
Subject: Homeowner's Association Rules & Regulations---Legal definition of 'reasonable'
Category: Relationships and Society
Asked by: brupnow-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 06 Dec 2005 18:12 PST
Expires: 05 Jan 2006 18:12 PST
Question ID: 602395
There is a section in my Homeowner's Association Rules & Regulations (
this is a Townhome ) that states "TVs, stereos, musical instruments,
and other noise levels, must be kept at a reasonable volume, so as not
to disturb others."  What is the legal definition of reasonable as it
pertains to this rule?

I believe that I keep volumes at a very reasonable level yet one of my
neighbors constantly complains.  I believe that she is being
hypersensitive.  I need to find a way to quantify things.  I plan on
purchasing a decibel meter at Radio Shack to quantify.  I live in Los
Angeles, California
Subject: Re: Homeowner's Association Rules & Regulations---Legal definition of 'reasonable'
Answered By: hagan-ga on 07 Dec 2005 11:52 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello, brupnow.  Sorry for your troubles, and I think I have an answer for you.

At the outset, I should point out that "reasonable" actually IS a
legal standard.  You would be amazed at the amount of law that is
based on "reasonableness," with no further definition than that.  For
example, the concept of "negligence," upon which 90% of injury
lawsuits are based, is simply "failure to act as a reasonable person
would act under the circumstances."  How does "reasonableness" get
defined?  By the judge, in each case.

There are not many reported cases dealing with your issue -- NOT
because it doesn't come up frequently, but because when it does come
up, the amounts involved are small and the parties involved are not
usually going to pay a lawyer the huge sums required to take a case
all the way through trial AND THEN APPEAL.  And only cases that go to
appeal have the force of law.  Cases that just get decided at the
trial level, where the parties accept the judgment and move on, don't
get reported in the case books and don't have the force of law behind

But that doesn't mean that you're completely without guidance.  There
is a California case in which two lawyer-neighbors decided to escalate
a dispute over basketball-playing in the backyard all the way to a
published appellate case.  And the opinion in that case is of some
help to you.

The opinion itself is interesting to read, because both parties hired
experts, including acoustical engineers, architects, and the head of
the Los Angeles Police Department's noise abatement team.  Sadly, I
can't find it outside of subscription sites, but FindLaw for Legal
Professionals allows free registration ( and
you can see it there at  The
name of the case is _Schild v. Rubin_ (1991) 232 Cal.App.3d 755.

The Court was quite put out by the parties' willingness to go all out
over such a petty dispute, and the following language from the opinion
is instructive in your case:
"A reasonable person must realize that complete emotional tranquility
is seldom attainable, and some degree of transitory emotional distress
is the natural consequence of living among other people in an urban or
suburban environment. (Fletcher v. Western National Life Ins. Co.,
supra, 10 Cal.App.3d at p. 397.) A reasonable person must expect to
suffer and submit to some inconveniences and annoyances from the
reasonable use of property by neighbors, particularly in the sometimes
close living of a suburban residential neighborhood.
"[T]he resolution of the issue of a private nuisance involves the
conflicting interests of landowners. 'The right of one to make such
lawful use of his property as he may desire must be applied with due
regard to the correlative right of the other to be protected in the
reasonable enjoyment of his property.' [Citation.] Each case must be
decided upon its own facts, ... '[E]very annoyance or disturbance of a
landowner from the use made of property by a neighbor does not
constitute a nuisance. The question is not whether the plaintiffs have
been annoyed or disturbed ... but whether there has been an injury to
their legal rights. People who live in organized communities must of
necessity suffer some inconvenience and annoyance from their neighbors
and must submit to annoyances consequent upon the reasonable use of
property by others.' [Citation.]"

Note the reference in the last sentence to "reasonable use of
property."  As I said, it's a common formulation in the law, and not
subject to exact quantification.  But it's clear that "reasonable use
of property" does NOT require you to go tiptoe in your own house, and
the mere fact that someone is annoyed does NOT mean that you're being
unreasonable.  That much is clear from the case above.

So the way I see your issue is this:  you have the right to reasonable
use of your own property, just as your neighbor has the right to
reasonable use of hers.  Such "reasonable use" need not be so quiet
that it prevents all annoyance, and if your neighbor is annoyed by
your reasonable use, that's her problem.  As an outside limit,
however, I would certainly say that if your music/TV can be heard more
than 150 feet from your property, then you're probably being
presumptively unreasonable, since that's a violation of the noise

I hope you found this helpful.  I recognize that it can be
frustrating, not having a quantifiable, black-and-white standard to
adhere to, but bear in mind that such a standard would have to be
awfully detailed -- can you watch MTV, what about the Sopranos, what
happens when a commercial comes on that is somewhat louder than the
program before it, does a song with heavy bass require you to turn
down the volume over a song with high treble, can you wear boots or
must you go in stocking feet, and so on.  The courts instead say that
"reasonableness" is the standard, and they leave it up to the judge in
each case to decide.

Best of luck with your situation, and if I can provide any further
assistance, please don't hesitate to ask.
brupnow-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Thank you very much.  I really appreciate it.

Subject: Re: Homeowner's Association Rules & Regulations---Legal definition of 'reasonable'
From: cynthia-ga on 06 Dec 2005 18:44 PST
Can you move the TV so it's not sitting by an adjoining wall? If the
volume is not any louder than normal talking level, it should be ok.
Have you invited her over to hear for herself that the TV is not at
too high a volume?
Subject: Re: Homeowner's Association Rules & Regulations---Legal definition of 'reasonable'
From: pinkfreud-ga on 06 Dec 2005 18:45 PST
This may be of interest:

(Amended by Ord. No. 156,363, Eff. 3/29/82.

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person within any zone of the City to
use or operate any radio, musical instrument, phonograph, television
receiver, or other machine or device for the producing, reproducing or
amplification of the human voice, music, or any other sound, in such a
manner, as to disturb the peace, quiet, and comfort of neighbor
occupants or any reasonable person residing or working in the area.

(b) Any noise level caused by such use or operation which is audible
to the human ear at a distance in excess of 150 feet from the property
line of the noise source, within any residential zone of the City or
within 500 feet thereof, shall be a violation of the provisions of
this section.

(c) Any noise level caused by such use or operation which exceeds the
ambient noise level on the premises of any other occupied property, or
if a condominium, apartment house, duplex, or attached business,
within any adjoining unit, by more than five (5) decibels shall be a
violation of the provisions of this section."
Subject: Re: Homeowner's Association Rules & Regulations---Legal definition of 'reasonable'
From: brupnow-ga on 06 Dec 2005 21:09 PST
The item from isn't helpful.  I found it myself.  The
problem is that it does not specifically address the issue of what the
legal precedent is of 'reasonable'.  Moreover, it would not have any
sway over a Homeowner's Association's Rules and Regulations.

Regarding moving the TV,  the complaints have come from multiple
sources ( not just the TV ).  I have strong reason to believe that
anything other than tiptoeing around my home will be unacceptable.  I
paid $545,000 for this home and don't feel that I should need to walk
on eggshells.  I do not, however, want to be disturbing anyone within
reason.  The difficult part is to quantify the term legal.  There must
be some precedent in the law.
Subject: Re: Homeowner's Association Rules & Regulations---Legal definition of 'reasonabl
From: sublime1-ga on 06 Dec 2005 21:22 PST
I'm a HOA officer. Here's what I would suggest:

The next time you receive a complaint, leave everything
as it is and negotiate, in a friendly way, to go to the
complaintant's dwelling and get a feel for what the level
actually is, especially in view of what it is they're 
trying to do. If they were reading a book, sit a spell
and see how it feels to you to try to read with the 
sound level from your house as it was when the complaint
was made. Walk a mile in their shoes.

If they're not willing to allow this, negotiate with an
HOA officer to do it instead, and rule on the matter.
An officer's ruling is about the best you can get, but
be willing to accept it, no matter what.

If you're not willing to do this, or accept an officer's
ruling when he does it for you, that should tell you

Subject: Re: Homeowner's Association Rules & Regulations---Legal definition of 'reasonable'
From: brupnow-ga on 06 Dec 2005 22:34 PST

I certainly understand the spirit and thrust of your argument.  At the
end of the day,  it means that I cannot have a television on or listen
to music at a lower than conversation level,  I am not willing to
accept that.

If it is not hypersensitivity,  it is a building defect.  I have lived
in apartments here in Los Angeles for 10 years and have never had
complaints from my neighbors.  If anything,  I always find myself
'walking a mile' in other's shoes.  I genuinely care about not
infringing upon others including this neighbor.

I believe this situation to be different in a couple of different
ways: 1) I just purchased this home and live sandwiched between two
board members of the HOA ( including the complaining neighbor ),  2) 
The gentleman that lived in this unit before me was 70 years old and
away 2-3 weeks a month.  This is one of the reasons that I believe any
noise whatsoever is offensive to the complaining neighbor.  I hear her
and her daughter yelling back and forth on a regular basis and see no
reason to complain.

The bottom line is that I want to understand some legal precedents for
this situation.  Surely I am not the first one to have encountered it.
 There must be some generally accepted guidelines to what 'reasonable'
is.  I am more than willing to abide by those.
Subject: Re: Homeowner's Association Rules & Regulations---Legal definition of 'reasonabl
From: cynthia-ga on 08 Dec 2005 02:54 PST
hagan, that's a fantastic answer!

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