How to Get Neighbors to Turn Down the Noise
by Cora Jordan
Copyright (c) 1994 Nolo Press
This article originally appeared in the Fall 1994 issue of the Nolo News. It was adapted from Neighbor Law: Trees,
Fences, Boundaries and Noise (2d edition), published by Nolo Press. You may copy this article as long as you include
this copyright notice.
It's 2 in the morning. You're lying in bed trying to sleep because
you have a big meeting tomorrow morning. You feel a pounding
sensation in your head. At first, you think it's a headache. But
then you realize that it's the funky disco beat blasting from
your next-door neighbor's stereo, reverberating through your
bedroom and rattling your windows.
Before you pound on the neighbor's door and yell something
you'll regret, or, even worse, resign yourself to living with
the noise, try some more constructive alternatives.
1. TALK TO YOUR NEIGHBOR
Your first step is to talk to your neighbor and try to resolve
your differences in person. It's hard to believe, but
sometimes neighbors are not aware that they are
causing a disturbance. Even if you're ready to
punch somebody's lights out, try a little sugar instead.
2. GET A COPY OF YOUR LOCAL ORDINANCE
Your next step is to get a copy of your local noise laws. Most
cities and counties have ordinances that control the times,
types and loudness of noise. For example, many local ordinances
prohibit unreasonable vehicle noise (like honking the car
horn early every morning for a carpool) or dogs barking
all night long every night. Noisy neighbors are in for a
warning or even a fine. You can look up your local ordinance
at city hall, a public law library or the public library.
Make at least two copies of it, one for your neighbor and one for yourself.
3. WARN YOUR NEIGHBOR IN WRITING
If things don't improve, ask your neighbor again -- this time in
writing -- to quiet down. Don't make threats, but state that
if the situation doesn't improve you'll be forced to notify
the authorities. Enclose a copy of the noise ordinance.
Keep a copy of your letter; you'll need it if, as a last
resort, you later sue your neighbor.
4. SUGGEST MEDIATION
Most cities offer free or low-cost mediation services,
which means they provide an impartial mediator who
will sit down with you and your neighbor and try to help
you resolve your differences.
Just call the mediation service; someone there will contact
the neighbor and suggest mediation. (These people are
very good at convincing others to give mediation a chance.)
5. CALL THE POLICE
If you have done all of the above and your neighbor has
responded by turning up the volume, now is the time to
call the police (or the Animal Control officer if the
problem is a barking dog). Try to get the police to
come while the noise is occurring.
Of course, you can call the police on a noisy neighbor the
first time the music gets too loud for your taste. But the
police will be more sympathetic to your situation if
they see that you have tried to solve the problem on your own.
6. SUE FOR NUISANCE
If all else fails, you can get your neighbor's attention-and
maybe some money-by suing in small claims court. You can
sue your neighbor for nuisance if your neighbor's noise
unreasonably interferes with your enjoyment of your property.
In the lawsuit, you ask for money to compensate you for the
interference with your right to peacefully enjoy your home.
Small claims court is easy and inexpensive, and you don't
need a lawyer. You will need to show the following:
- There is excessive and disturbing noise.
- Your enjoyment of your property is diminished.
- You have asked the person to stop the noise (your letter should be enough to prove this).
To prove your case, you can use police reports, witnesses,
recordings, your own testimony and the testimony of
neighbors or other witnesses.
The amount you'll want to ask for will depend on how much the
noise bothered you. Did you lose sleep? Were you unable to carry
on your usual activities, such as reading, playing music or talking
to friends? Decide on a reasonable dollar amount per day, and
multiply that figure by the number of days you've been seriously
bothered. The amount of money you can ask for in small claims
court is limited, between $2,000 and $5,000 in most states.
IF YOU'RE A TENANT
Noisy neighbors are always bad news. But when you share walls
with the insensitive neighbor, the problem is especially vexing.
The good news for renters is that, in addition to all your other
options, you have built-in allies in the battle to keep your
apartment livable: your lease or rental agreement and your landlord.
Remember the lease or rental agreement you signed? Chances
are your neighbor signed one too. Standard leases and rental
agreements contain clauses that entitle you to "quiet enjoyment"
of your home. A neighbor who is blasting the stereo in an unreasonable
manner is probably violating the lease or rental agreement and
can be evicted for doing so.
If you warn your neighbor about the noise in writing and are
sure that your lease entitles you to a reasonable amount of
quiet, send a copy of the lease along with your letter. In
your letter, tell the neighbor that the next complaint
will be to the landlord or neighborhood association if the noise continues.
If warning your neighbor doesn't work, go to your landlord.
Most tenants don't like to complain to the landlord or
manager about unreasonable noise or other nuisances
because they are afraid of being branded as troublemakers.
But other neighbors are probably bothered by the noise too.
Get together with them and complain to the landlord as a
group. It's easier and you might get faster results. Most
landlords don't want arguments between tenants and
won't put up with tenants who cause trouble by ignoring
signed lease or rental agreements. Your landlord will
probably tell the noisy tenant to pipe down or face eviction.