Noise complaint laws differ from one jurisdiction to the next. Typically, the law defines excessive noise as a nuisance. Citizens can call the police non-emergency number to file noise complaints. For certain types of disturbances, citizens can call city hall or go online to fill out a residential noise complaint form. People violating a city ordinance often receive a fine.
In extreme cases, they can be charged with a crime. When it comes to landlord and tenant rights, noise disturbance problems can lead to eviction.
When Is a Neighbor Too Noisy?
Most people hear their neighbors from time to time. That doesn’t mean the neighbors are unreasonably loud. In some apartments, it’s nearly impossible not to hear other people walking and talking normally. However, when someone repeatedly disturbs the lives of others by creating unsettling, distracting or disturbing sounds, they’re usually guilty of a noise violation.
Common examples include:
- Dogs barking and birds squawking.
- Yelling, singing or laughing too loudly.
- Honking or operating a car in poor condition.
- Operating a vehicle modified to make excessive noise (for instance, in California, exhaust systems must not exceed 95 decibels).
- Playing musical at a volume others can hear from far away.
Less common noise violations include:
- School and church activities heard from far away.
- Loading and unloading goods at odd hours.
- Food vendors or street performers making too much noise.
- Performing yard maintenance or construction outside of traditional business hours.
Municipal code outlines quiet hours for communities and often restricts certain types of noise at other times. For instance, Indianapolis restricts construction-related noise between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. except as needed in emergencies.
Businesses, organizations and even informal groups of individuals often can request a permit from the city to create more noise during an event than is normally allowed. This prevents an ordinance violation and its resulting fines. It can also help manage the public’s expectations for a quiet environment.
How to File a Noise Complaint
Sometimes, it’s safe for neighbors to talk to each other about these problems and try to solve the issue themselves. Unfortunately, that isn’t always possible. One Indianapolis resident lost an ear during a noise dispute, so it's best for residents to notify the authorities if they're worried about how a neighbor will respond.
Municipal codes regarding noise complaints can be found online at the state's Municode. Visitors can input their city and state or zip code information, and then use the search feature to find the relevant code section. Many times, a residential noise complaint form is posted on a city or county website. Unfortunately, it sometimes can take employees a while to respond to these reports.
Residents can call the non-emergency line for their local police or sheriff’s department to report violations of noise laws. Some cities, like Chicago, Indianapolis, Las Vegas and Baltimore, have a 311 phone line available for these issues. Don’t use 911 to report noise nuisances. It’s only for life-threatening situations.
In rare situations, a person can be noisy enough that he will face criminal charges of disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct.
Read More: How to File a Noise Complaint
What Will Happen to My Neighbor if I Complain About Noise?
Some people hesitate to make noise complaints out of fear a neighbor will face serious consequences. In most situations, a noise violation only counts as breaking an ordinance, resulting in a small fine for a first offense.
After the police are called, officers will likely visit the neighbor and inform him that he’s violating noise complaint laws. This might result in a warning or a ticket. The police might also follow up with the person filing the complaint to explain what’s happening or ask questions.
If the visit results in a confrontation with police or if the behavior doesn’t stop, the officers can place the offender under arrest.
How to Complain to Your Landlord About a Noisy Neighbor
If a noisy neighbor is renting the property they live or conduct business in, another potential solution is speaking to the owner of the building. In cases where poor-quality construction is part of the problem, installing special carpet or paneling can help keep the noise down.
When it comes to tenant rights, noise disturbance issues can be difficult to prove. It's common for landlords to have a policy of ignoring complaints that come from only one source, so residents should ask other neighbors to also file complaints. Calling the police also creates a paper trail. A complainant may be able to use police reports to legally break a lease or win a rent abatement.