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What To Do About a Neighbor's Noise

Your neighbor's dog barks at all hours of the night. This keeps you up. It agitates you. At one point, you nearly pick up the phone and call the police. But did you try simply talking to your neighbors about their noisy dog?

Or maybe it's their loud music that is bothering you. You've probably been awake at 3 AM, from time to time, wondering whether to file a noise complaint.

Know that it's best to avoid calling the police in non-emergency situations. Most importantly, file a police report only in cases of emergency. If you're worried about noise issues, it's usually best to contact your city's non-emergency police line.

Maybe your neighbors are such deep sleepers that they don't even know how loud their canine friend can be. Maybe they've somehow fallen asleep with the music blasting. Whatever the case may be, noisy neighbors can be terrible. But even if you're sleep-deprived and cranky, it's important to take a reasonable approach to such disputes. Below are suggestions for what to do when a neighbor's noise becomes a problem.

Neighbor Noise and the Law: Basics

In almost every community, there are laws and ordinances that prohibit excessive, unnecessary, and unreasonable levels of noise. When you find the noise ordinances that apply to your local area, don't be surprised to find out that these laws set aside certain times of the day when there should be general quiet. These are referred to as “quiet hours." These hours range and depend upon the day.

In addition, many cities and towns also have prohibitions on sustained noise levels above a certain decibel. Police will often investigate by placing a decibel meter near the property line and taking a reading over a period of time.

If you live in an apartment or condominium complex, you might be able to contact the landlord or the homeowners association (HOA) as well. You could do so if you're concerned about barking dogs. Under limited circumstances, the tenant could face eviction if the problem is bad enough. Nevertheless, under some circumstances, your city ordinances might provide resources in the case of barking dogs.

It doesn't really matter what types of noise are disturbing you. Under most lease agreements, you're entitled to “quiet enjoyment of the premises." This can mean many things. But it certainly can also refer to noise from a dog or from a loud party. Noise disturbances are covered within the scope of “quiet enjoyment."

Loud noises from your neighbors can be one of the worst experiences as a renter. But there are many options for handling such situations. It's a tenant's right, for example, to contact the property management company that owns the unit where you live. You can file noise complaints with whomever manages your property. If you do call the police to complain about the noise, you could request that the police engage in code enforcement concerning noise ordinances. But it's a good idea to keep this as a last resort, as it could cause much conflict. But it's important to know that most local noise laws prohibit certain types of noises and noises during certain hours.

If you call the police, the police department will likely dispatch an officer to respond to the situation. Approaching noise problems with knowledge of the law can help you deal with your noisy tenants. You should be able to get a good night's sleep at your rental property. If you don't, the property owner should take action.

How To Confront Your Neighbor About Their Excessive Noise

If you're already thinking about calling the police or a lawyer, stop and think about less adversarial ways to solve the problem first. In many cases, they may not be aware of how loud or distracting the noise is to their neighbors. Below are suggestions for how to address the problem, from talking to filing a lawsuit.

  • 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.
  • Give a warning: 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. Keep copies for your own records. Also, if you happen to live in a planned community or some other neighborhood with a housing agreement, you can also send a copy of that agreement with the relevant portions highlighted again.
  • Mediation: This is 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. They 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 and investigate. Your best bet is to call the police during a period when you feel the noise ordinance is being violated. Or you should provide the time period when the violation typically recurs.
  • File a lawsuit: If the police fail to investigate 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.

Suing Your Neighbor for Making Too Much Noise

If a neighbor's noise is bothering you and nothing you have done to resolve the situation has worked, you have every right to file a lawsuit. Generally, there are two different remedies that can be sought from such a lawsuit. If you want monetary damages, you might 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.

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. You also must show that you've asked the person to stop making the noise previously. 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.

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, you may be able to claim a higher amount.

Excessive Noise and Injury

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), noise of only 85 decibels (60 decibels is the sound of a normal conversation) can cause noise-induced hearing loss over time.

What Should You Do About a Neighbor's Noise? An Attorney Can Help

Disputes with neighbors should be handled with delicacy. This means that you'll need a detailed understanding of your rights and your neighbor's obligations under local laws and regulations. While it's always best to resolve disputes directly with your neighbors, sometimes it's necessary to work with a skilled, local real estate attorney instead.

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