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What to Do About a Neighbor's Noise - FAQs

Everything you wanted to know about your noisy neighbors.

My neighbors are so noisy, are they breaking the law?

It's a good bet that your neighbors are in fact breaking the law. In almost every community, there are laws and ordinances that prohibit excessive, unnecessary and unreasonable levels of noise. Most of the time, these laws are enforced by the police. If you are curious about the laws in your area, you should look them up.

There are a number of ways you can find out about the noise laws in your area. A great place to start is on the internet. Most county and city webpages have links to the noise laws in the area. You can generally find your county's or city's webpage by doing a simple search online.

Another way to find out about the local noise laws in your area is to visit sites like FindLaw. Lastly, if you have been struggling with these options, you can always take a trip to visit your local library or city/county government office. Many times, librarians, clerks, and other government officials are more than willing to help you find the laws that you are looking for.

When you do find the local noise ordinances that apply to the area that you live in, don't be surprised to find out that the laws set aside certain times of the day when there is supposed to be a general quite. These hours range and depend upon the day. For example, the laws in your city may designate this quite time to be between the hours of 11p.m. and 6a.m. Monday through Friday, and from 11p.m. to 8a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. So, if the construction on the house next to you starts up at 6 in the morning on Saturday, they may be in trouble.

In addition, many cities and towns also have some prohibition on sustained noise levels above a certain decibel. If, for instance, your neighbor insists on playing hardcore metal rock at a very high level from noon till 9p.m. he could be violating this law. If a neighbor complains about such a noise, the police will often investigate by placing a decibel meter near the property line and take a reading over a period of time.

How should I go about talking to my neighbor about their noise?

So, you've been hearing your neighbors' noise for quite some time, but what should you do about it? Generally speaking, there are two different types of reactions to noisy neighbors. First, there is the angry reaction. This reaction never really gets much accomplished. The second reaction is the resignation reaction. You become resigned to the noise, thinking that there is nothing you can do about it but move. This, too, is an undesireable reaction since it will accomplish nothing. Often, the resignation reaction can turn into the angry reaction, given enough time. To avoid the negative consequences of these two reactions, here are some suggestions about how you can approach your neighbor about the excessive noise.

Talk. Plain and simple. Rather than having a shouting match across the fence, try instead to ring their doorbell and ask to have a conversation about the noise. If done politely and respectfully, the noise problem may go away without any further incidents. By talking, you may bring your neighbor's attention to a problem he did not even know existed. For example, if your neighbor's stereo turns on automatically each day at 11a.m. for thirty minutes, your neighbor may not be aware of this because he is at work each day.

Give a warning. This is the next step to take after having a conversation with your neighbor. If talking did not accomplish anything, at least you let your neighbor know that there was a problem with the noise. You can then give a warning to the neighbor by sending him a copy of the local noise ordinances with the relevant parts underlined or highlighted. Along with the laws, you can also attach a note detailing what you think the problem is. Keep copies for your own records.

Also, if you happen to live in a planned community or some other neighborhood that has a housing agreement, you can also send a copy of that agreement with the relevant portions highlighted again. There are often covenants against noise contained in these agreements as well as in residential leases. Send a copy of your complaint to the homeowner's association or landlord. These people have more authority than you and may be able to solve the problem without the involvement of police.

Mediation. This is one step before going to the police and only necessary if you enjoy a good relationship with your neighbor and want it to continue. The mediator will invite you and your neighbor to sit down together and try to hash out a solution to the noise problem. These mediation services are generally available in most cities and sometimes are free or low-cost.

Call the Cops. If nothing has worked, you should call the police. You can show the police that you have attempted to solve the noise problem on your own, but that your neighbor continues to violate the noise ordinances. At this point, the police may come in and investigate.

Your best bet is to call the police during a period when you feel the noise ordinance is being violated, or giving the time period in which the violation repeats itself (example noisy music at midnight, every night). By doing so, you have the best chance of the police being able to monitor and evaluate the noise level when it is going on.

File a lawsuit. This is the last resort. If the police fail to investigate (some cities only allow police to investigate if two or more people complain about the noise), or otherwise do not judge a noise violation, you can file a claim in small claims court. Most small claims courts are easy to navigate because they are designed for citizens, not attorneys.

Can I sue my neighbor for making too much noise?

Sure you can. If neighbors' noise is bothering you and nothing you have done to resolve the situation has worked, you have every right to file a lawsuit. Generally speaking, there are two different remedies that can be sought from such a lawsuit. If you want money damages, you could probably get away with filing a lawsuit in small claims court. However, if you seek a court order from the judge directed at your neighbor to cease and desist making the noise, then you will have to file suit in regular civil court.

No matter which court you choose, however, your ultimate goal is to stop the noise. You may think that a court order from regular court is the biggest deterrent, but you'd be surprised what a money judgment can do to quiet a noisy neighbor. Often times, a money judgment is better at stopping a noisy neighbor from continuing to be a nuisance than an actual judicial order. Better still, small claims courts are designed to be easily accessible and don't require that you hire an attorney.

In order to win your case in small claims court, you will need to prove that there is excessive and disturbing noise and that your neighbor is the source of the noise. Next, you will need to show that your quiet enjoyment of your home is being disrupted and that you have previously asked the person to stop making the noise. You will need evidence to prove your case. Evidence can be found in copies of documents requesting that your neighbors quiet down, witnesses, recordings of the noise and even your own testimony.

One often asked sub-question in this category is how much should you ask for in your small claims suit. In most states, small claims judgments are limited to maximums ranging from $2,500 to $7,500. A good starting point is $20 to $30 per day that the noise disrupted you. If your job performance was affected (perhaps you work from home), or you cannot get sleep because of the noise, asking for $100 per day is not unreasonable.

Does my landlord have a duty to silence noisy tenants?

The short answer is yes. If you have a noisy neighbor in an apartment building or other residential lease property, then the landlord has a duty to try to keep the tenant quite. Almost every residential lease or rental agreement contains a "quiet enjoyment" clause that gives tenants the right to occupy their rented premises in peace and free from outside disturbances. This runs both ways, as tenants are expected not to impinge upon the quiet enjoyment rights of others. A landlord's duty is to enforce both sides of this agreement.

When your neighbor in your apartment building keeps you up at night by practicing the drums for his band, the tenant is most likely violating the quiet enjoyment clause of his rental agreement. Your landlord has a duty to try to keep that tenant quiet and can often tell the tenant to stay quiet or face eviction.

What can I do about my neighbor's dog that barks constantly?

Ah, man's best friend Well, at least dog is man's best friend when he's not barking in the wee hours of the morning. Problems with barking dogs can normally be solved without the intervention of the police, animal control or the courts. If you do end up having to involve some sort of official, it is always best to be able to show that you made some sort of effort to solve the problem before resorting to official action. Here are some steps that you can take to try to resolve a neighbor's noisy dog.

First -- Talk to your neighbor about the problem. Much like problems with human created noise, the first step to take is always to ask the owner of the dog if he is aware of the problem. Sometimes, this is all it will take. If the dog only barks when the neighbor is not home, your neighbor may not even be aware of the problem and will be happy to fix it.

The best course of action is always the simplest. Try to figure out how to solve the problem by just talking with your neighbor. If you like dogs, you can offer to watch the dog while the neighbor is out of the house. Or, you can suggest that your neighbor enroll his pet in an obedience school that will teach the dog not to bark when the neighbor is out. You can also agree that the dog will be kept inside after a certain time during the night.

Second -- Mediation. Again, there are a number of mediation services that are offered in most cities. Many of these services are staffed by volunteers and offer free to low cost mediation. These services help neighbors come together in a non-threatening atmosphere and identify problems and suggest possible solutions. Mediators won't make decisions for you, but they can help quite a bit.

You can find mediation services by asking for referrals from your local bar association, the small claims court clerk's office, or the local district attorney's office.

Third -- Find the law that governs the situation. Some cities have laws that specifically address noise problems coming from loud, barking dogs. If your city does not have such a law, you should look up laws that are classified as general noise ordinance laws. These laws will make the owner of the dog responsible for the noise problem created by the dog. If, after numerous warnings from the police, there is still a noise problem from the dog, the owner may be cited with disturbing the peace.

You can find out what laws apply where you live by looking them up online at your city or county's webpage. These laws can also be found at your local public library where a librarian will probably be happy to help you find them. In addition, the local animal control agency should also be able to provide you with the necessary information.

Fourth -- Contact your local animal control agency. In addition to catching stray dogs and cats, animal control agencies are sometimes tasked with issues regarding animal noise complaints. If you are curious, a simple phone call can tell you all that you need to know.

Fifth -- Call the police. Calling the police should be a last resort. If nothing else has worked and you still can't get any sleep, getting a police officer to knock on your neighbor's door may led you to a happy result. Keep in mind, however, that the officer may indicate that you were the one to call in the noise problem, which may strain or end any relationship that you have with your neighbor.

Can too much noise hurt me?

Yes. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (www.nidcd.nih.gov), noise of only 85 decibels (60 decibels is the sound of a normal conversation) can cause noise-induced hearing loss. Chainsaws, jackhammers and other heavy equipment normally ring in at over 100 dB, and other sounds are regularly above 85dB as well. For example, regular exposure to sounds over 110 dB can cause permanent hearing loss, while sustained sounds over 100 dB can also cause damage to your hearing.

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