Mackenzie family of Abbotsford, B.C., fined for noisy kids

A woman says she and her family are being forced out of their townhouse in Abbotsford, B.C., by the complex's strata council — because her children play too loudly.

Kathryn Mackenzie lives with her husband and two sons, Gabriel, 2, and Jacob, 5, in a townhouse on the upper floor of a "family friendly" complex​.

The noise complaints started more than a year ago, when the Mackenzie family's downstairs neighbour wrote in an email that the children were "constantly running back and forth, and ... jumping and stomping all day long."

Mackenzie said she bought the townhouse five years ago after her first son was born, and said tensions are building. She has now received two $50 fines for excessive noise.

"It's as if they have decided we don’t have the right to live in our home and they are going to drive us out one way or another," said Mackenzie.

"Every time the boys fell down or dropped a toy, every time I opened a closet, she would start banging on her walls or the ceiling."

Under B.C. regulations, councils are required for all strata complexes, which are commonly called condos but can also be townhomes, and are responsible for the management and upkeep. Members of the council are themselves owners, and are elected.

The Mackenzies' upper unit has carpeting except in the kitchen, but the neighbour claims the noise in the wooden framed complex can be heard two floors down in the basement:

"We do understand that [one of Mackenzie's sons] is a young child, but the running and jumping is constant and doesn't stop and it is affecting our lives now too."

Minutes from a May 2014 strata meeting show the council determined the noise caused by the children violated a strata bylaw and the City of Abbotsford's Good Neighbour Bylaw.

"I have a two-year-old. He does scream, he has tantrums … I know it’s really loud. He's supposed to be loud. He's two years old and there’s nothing I can do to stop that," said Mackenzie.

'Bullied by strata council'

Mackenzie was first issued with a fine in November, when it appeared on her fees statement from the complex's property management company.

In December, she was fined again and received a final warning threatening further action if the "excessive noise of running, jumping, banging, screaming and stomping" doesn’t stop.

On mobile? Click here to read the letter Mackenzie received from the strata 

"If it doesn't stop, we're going to be fined every week $50," said Mackenzie. "I've been, in my opinion, bullied by my strata council because I have children."

Mackenzie has placed a foam mattress in her dining room for her boys to jump on quietly, and last summer agreed to an offer of mediation from the strata council. But she has heard nothing back.

She also wrote the council asking what it would like her to do to keep the children quiet, but claims she got no response.

The strata council president declined a CBC News request for an interview. The neighbour downstairs did not answer her door or return phone calls.

"For a year and a half now I am not parenting the way I would want to because I have to put this virtual stranger's comfort before the well-being of my children," Mackenzie said.

"If this was secretly an adults-only unit, we needed to know that before we made our purchase. It really isn’t fair."

Stratas can fine noisy neighbours

Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium Home Owners' Association of B.C., told CBC News that strata councils can fine parents, or any other homeowner, who makes noise.

"People with children still have to respect the rights of everyone else in the development," Gioventu said.

He said fines are not unusual for families with small children, especially in wood frame buildings like the one in which the Mackenzies live.

"Strata council doesn't actually have a choice. They have to enforce the bylaws so they get a complaint, they have an obligation to investigate," said Gioventu.

"If it becomes chronic, they can’t just keep fining. They have to take the next step — a court application."

Such a step is usually only taken in extreme situations, such as the case of Rose Jordison.

The mother of a teenager accused of screaming obscenities and spitting on neighbours was ordered to sell her Surrey condo in 2013 after the strata received more than 1,000 complaints.

Gioventu said chronic noise has prompted strata councils to get court orders.

"In some cases, [they're going] as far as ordering the sale of the strata lot or the removal of the people from a building.  It isn't a right to disrupt other people in a building."

'We can’t afford to pay fee'

Meanwhile, the City of Abbotsford said the strata council should not be citing the city noise bylaw as it does not apply to a strata complex.

Last year, the city received only two complaints about noisy children playing outside after 11:30 p.m.

For her part, Mackenzie believes strata councils have too much power and noise rules should not apply to children. 

She and her husband have decided not to wait for the dispute to end up in court and plan to move out as soon as possible.

"We can’t afford to pay a family noise fee just to live in our home," she said.

"We just listed our house on the market at $5,000 below assessment. We just need to get out now and I'll never buy in a strata complex again." 

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