You receive a letter, phone call, email, or even an in-person visit about a noise complaint regarding one of your rental units. What do you do?
Noise complaints are a complex accessibility issue for landlords who sit in the middle of the chain of responsibility both for noise assailing their tenants and noise coming from their tenants. On one hand, your tenants have the “right to quiet enjoyment” of their rental home, and excessive neighborhood noise can infringe on that – and thus on you contractually. On the other hand, you are responsible for your tenants providing that same right to quiet enjoyment to their neighbors.
How do you handle noise complaints from or about your tenants? The right answer will depend on a few local factors like laws, code enforcement, lease clauses, and the particular noise-producing circumstances.
Illegal noise is defined differently in each state, city, or county depending on zoning. Sometimes, an HOA neighborhood will also have a codified definition of non-permitted noise and acceptable noise levels. Illegal noise is defined as noise that is harmful, disruptive, and unnecessary.
Construction noise may be tolerated during business hours at 3 PM but may become illegal according to local city council noise ordinances after 10 PM. Some noises are rarely legal in neighborhoods unless in the case of an emergency, like the excessive honking of a car horn.
Know your local laws and noise regulations and keep notes for each rental property that you manage. Two houses across the city from one another may be subject to different noise laws regarding when and what noise is permitted or restricted by law, depending on how rules were written by the city government.
What Constitutes a Noise Disturbance?
A noise disturbance is a recurring or ongoing noise that disturbs the right to quiet enjoyment of nearby neighbors. This may be measured at an average above 84 decibels or considered on a case-by-case basis. Noise disturbances are more likely to be ruled in the evening and nighttime, during neighborhood quiet hours and when excessive noise can become a cause for sleep disturbance, stress, and a factor that puts public health at risk.
Noise disturbances are usually a practical line drawn between the normal noise of private daily activity and excessive noise that disturbs neighbors and homeowners, and prevents the enjoyment of nearby homes.
Types of Noise Complaints
The definition of excessive noise is not the same across the board, and city departments may not see eye to eye on the issue either. What are the types of noise most likely to be reported in a neighborhood as the cause of a noise disturbance?
It is an unfortunate truth that a constantly barking dog can drive anyone crazy. Barking dogs can become a noise disturbance if the barking is loud, continuous, or regular. Dog owners should pay careful attention to whether their dog barks outdoors while they’re away at work.
If you have a tenant unaware of the noise their dog causes while they’re away from home, have them set up a camera in the rental unit to record what happens. They might be surprised to find that their dog howls incessantly as soon as they pull out of the driveway and cross the property line.
Construction noise from home renovations is permitted, but only during certain times of day, typically business hours. There are usually local regulations and sometimes HOA rules regarding when construction noise can take place, especially near occupied real estate. An example of unreasonable noise from construction crews would be a jackhammer going off in a residential area in the middle of the night.
House parties are a common source of noise complaints, as the sound of guests can filter into the yards and homes of nearby neighbors. Many landlords have nightmares of raucous house parties in their rental unit – not just because of noise disturbances, but also for the potential of property damage and substance abuse that can accompany them.
Loud music is an even more common noise-related issue, as residents often don’t realize that their thumping bass is shaking their neighbors’ windows. If you have a tenant that really enjoys giving their speakers a work out, or one that has a band that likes to practice in the rental, then it may be worth it to upgrade your property’s insulation and windows.
Fireworks are an issue in select neighborhoods and around certain holidays, but some people enjoy lighting up the sky year round. They’re also a fire hazard, which is increasingly concerning in many fire-prone areas around the country, and firework noise complaints should be taken and investigated very seriously. Fireworks are not legal inside most city limits.
Revving vehicles, vehicles with loud radios, or just the sound of motor vehicles coming and going at all hours can cause a noise complaint in the community. Whether it’s a motorcycle or noisy neighbors refusing to keep a working muffler on their car, excessive noise can seriously ruin the mood of a peaceful night.
How to File a Noise Complaint
What should you do if your tenants report noise regarding a neighbor? As the landlord, your tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment is partly your responsibility. If a noisy neighbor is disturbing that quiet enjoyment, you can file a noise complaint with the HOA, city, or county where the home is located.
Filing a noise complaint with law enforcement will usually result in a visit from a police officer to investigate the source of the noise and ask the neighbor to control their noise disturbances – or at least limit them to reasonable hours.
First, look up the local noise ordinances. If the noise complaint fits the definition of illegal or restricted noise, file a complaint with your city services. If a search for “file a noise complaint” plus the name of your city or county doesn’t produce a result, simply call the sheriff’s department’s non-emergency phone number and file a complaint through the general channel.
The Noise is Coming From Inside the House
What should you do if you receive a noise complaint regarding the tenants in one of your rental homes? In this case, you hold the first responsibility for asking your tenants to quiet down and finding a resolution for any noise they may need to make.
1. Investigate Politely
First, ask your tenants politely what is going on. It’s important to stay calm and collect the facts, like what the noise was and what time of day it occurred. Mention that you’ve been made aware of some noise from the house – try not to call it a complaint – and ask what’s up.
In a best-case scenario, your tenant didn’t realize their dog was barking while they were at work or that their music was too loud, and they’ll offer to keep it down in the future. If the tenant denies making noise, ask if anything they’d done might have been more audible than expected. Then ask around to discover if the noise was heard by others, or just one reported source.
2. Look for Solutions and Compromise
If the tenant needs to make noise (such as a musician practicing), work out a compromise like noisy vs. quiet hours, or limiting the duration of noisy activities. Lawn work, children’s sports gatherings, music-powered cardio workouts, or backyard construction projects can be adapted to bother neighbors less – and neighbors can adapt if reasonable compromises are made.
3. Alert Tenants to Legal and Eviction Risks
If your tenant refuses to stop making noise or admitting to an ongoing noise problem, let them know they are on legal thin ice. Illegal noise can result in fines, jail time, and violates most lease terms, allowing for a path to eviction.
4. Take Necessary Action
If a tenant becomes a problem beyond reasonable compromise, you may need to take steps to assist law enforcement and/or move toward eviction.
Responding to a Police Report About a Noise Complaint
What happens if police come to your door about a tenant noise complaint? It is always best to work with both law enforcement and your tenants to find a resolution. If you believe your tenant is polite and responsive, let them know that their noise has attracted the attention of the police department without creating a directly threatening encounter.
However, if your tenants have become a problem, now is a good time to ask the police for advice on handling problem tenants in the event of an eviction.
If you have good tenants who have filed a police report about a neighbor’s noise, stay alert. In a worst-case scenario, your tenants may have legal grounds to break their lease if neighborhood noise creates an ongoing disturbance of their peaceful enjoyment, or puts public safety at risk.
When to Evict
When should you evict a tenant for noise complaints? There is no set number of noise complaints to equate eviction, but rather a severe or repeated offense. When you are sure a tenant will not change and cannot be worked with, begin preparing to evict. Build a lease with noise complaint resolution and grounds for eviction built into the terms to make this process easier for you legally and protect yourself from tenants who do not admit to making continuously complained-about noise. If you already have an existing lease that you’d like to add noise regulations to, a lease addendum is a great place to start.
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Noise Complaint FAQs
What can I do about noisy neighbors?
As with any neighborhood dispute, it’s important to approach the problem calmly and with a level head. It’s possible that your neighbors weren’t aware that their noise was causing a nuisance, or that they’ll stop doing the loud activity now that you spoke up about it.
If talking with the neighbor about their noise doesn’t result in a change of behavior, look up your local area’s noise ordinances. If the noise is over 84 decibels or happening at an inconvenient time of day, such as in the middle of the night, then you may have cause to file a noise complaint with your local police department.
What are the consequences for not following noise complaint laws?
In the event that the offending noise causes a threat to public safety, repeated offenses can result in fines or jail time. If someone violates their local noise control ordinances, it means they’re creating ongoing or recurrent noise that crosses from one property to another property. Enforcement laws vary by locale, but in most areas a noise complaint results in a visit from the police or other law enforcement officials.
Can I call local police for a noise complaint?
In most cases, excessive noise is reported to either your local Department of Public Health or your police department, and reports should be made using the non-emergency phone number. It’s important for every property owner to be aware of their local laws and noise ordinances, including what to do in a worst-case scenario. You can look up your local area on municode.