Carpet burn: Downstairs neighbors lay out claim

By Kelly Caplan
BridgeTower Media Newswires
DETROIT—In subdivisions, it’s said that good fences make good neighbors.

Can the same be said about carpets in condos?

Michael and Patricia Lambert replaced the carpeted floors with hardwood flooring in their unit at Harborside Condominiums in Charlevoix.

Two years later, Patrick and Laura Mauch bought the unit below the Lamberts. After moving in, they found themselves in a sticky situation. The noise of the Lamberts walking on the hardwood floors above was “intolerable.”

Suit was filed, but a settlement was reached during mediation. The gist: the Lamberts were “to add attached carpet with padding to” certain areas of their unit, contingent on the Mauches’ approval of the materials. The Lamberts could also use an existing area rug in the living room.

The Mauches finally approved a carpet and pad presented to them by the Lamberts, but there was a wrinkle: the agreed-upon materials would not be affixed or secured to the floor. This violated the requirement that the carpet be “attached,” the Mauches argued.

The entire case was about eliminating noise from the Lamberts’ unit, they emphasized; the carpet and pad could be easily removed if it weren’t affixed in a more permanent manner.

And proving that the Lamberts were compliant with the agreement would be difficult — so back to court the parties went.

An evidentiary hearing was held. A carpet salesperson said his company wouldn’t use pads to stick a carpet to the floor, but conceded it was “not technically impossible.”

An inspector for high-end wood flooring installations was up next. While challenging, rugs could be attached permanently, he said — but you’d have to punch holes into the wood floor.

At last, the Charlevoix County Circuit Court issued its ruling: Laying an area rug over sound-absorbing, nonslip padding was good enough to comply with the mediation-settlement agreement.

Tacking down the rug would, at most, simply slow down its removal. As such, a rubber pad met the “attached” requirement and satisfied the parties’ intent.

The Mauches appealed.

But a panel of the Court of Appeals agreed with the ruling laid down by the trial court.

“The agreement does not specify any particular manner of ‘attachment,’ nor does it state that it must be so permanent that the carpet cannot be removed for any reason whatsoever,” the panel explained.

And while the word “attached” may seem clear, there was obviously some “latent ambiguity” in this case.

“[W]e agree with the trial court’s assessment that the use of rubber padding as an ‘attachment’ does fasten, join, or connect the carpets in at least two dimensions, which under the circumstances is consistent with the use of the word in the agreement, the goals the agreement was intended to serve, and the evidence introduced at the evidentiary hearing,” the panel concluded.

The case is Mauch v. Lambert. Judges Amy Ronayne Krause, Jane E. Markey and Stephen L. Borrello sat on the panel that issued the unpublished per curiam opinion.