Neighbors playing music too loudly can severely stress over-the-fence relations. Disputes about excessive noise among neighbors are difficult issues for homeowners associations, neighborhood associations, and condominium associations, so many areas have established laws to determine when loud is too loud.
Federal Laws About Noise Control
In 1971, Congress gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (epa.gov) authority to set guidelines for noise control in the Noise Control Act of 1971. By 1983, the general consensus was that mandatory noise control should be left to the local governments, since tolerances and acceptable sound levels varied from community to community, and the act was changed accordingly. The 1971 noise-control guidelines were left in place, however.
Apartment tenants face particularly difficult issues regarding loud music. Many apartment leases have clauses prohibiting tenants from making excessive noise or playing loud music, and tenants may be evicted for violating these lease provisions. In addition to lease requirements, many cities have their own noise regulations regarding residential multi-unit buildings. In Los Angeles (lacity.org), for example, Section 112.01(c) of the municipal Noise Regulation addresses the noise level in apartment and condominium buildings in two ways. First, the regulation establishes a procedure for the city to establish what the ambient noise level is for a given building. Second, the regulation defines what sound level of music is too loud -- any unit that shares a common wall cannot exceed the established ambient noise level by five decibels. In Los Angeles, residential ambient noise levels are 60 decibels in certain circumstances, so the allowable decibel level for loud music is 65 decibels. Sixty-five decibels is like the sound of a vacuum cleaning from 1 yard.
Condominium associations present unique problems regarding excessive noise and loud music. Unlike an apartment building, a condo owner cannot be “evicted” quite as easily for playing loud music. The condominium owner has certain rights, and these rights include not being ejected from the condominium community without the condo association going through certain steps. Some cities, like New York City (nyc.gov), have noise regulations that specifically apply to multi-unit, high density, residential buildings. Section 24-218 of the New York City Noise Code states the general prohibition that no person shall make any noise in excess of the permitted decibel levels within New York City, and specific provisions of the code apply to condominium and like-situated buildings. Section 24-243(b) says that in high-density buildings during the day, the noise level can be no greater than 65 decibels, and at night the noise level can be no greater than 55 decibels. Fifty-five decibels sounds like a a low-speed, low traffic, residential street.
Residential neighborhood communities may look to their city codes or regulations to assist with reigning in loud music-loving neighbors. For example, in Denville, New Jersey (denvillenj.org) noise ordinance e specifies that outdoor sound limit between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. is 65 decibels, and after 10:00 p.m., the limit is 50 decibels. Multi-use residential property indoor limits during the day are 55 decibels and 40 decibels after 10:00 p.m. Fifty decibels is the volume of a quiet game of chess.