How to File a Noise Complaint

by Shelley Frost
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No one wants to be the crabby neighbor who complains all the time, but dealing with thumping music or loud power tools in the wee hours of the morning is no picnic. You shouldn't have to sacrifice your comfort — or sleep — to keep the peace in the neighborhood.

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One way to stop these noisy neighborhood conflicts is by filing a noise complaint. However, that's only an option when there's a noise ordinance in place.

What Is a Noise Ordinance?

A noise ordinance is a law that restricts loud noises during certain times of the day. It's put in place to keep loud noises from disrupting the quality of life of others. The law usually defines the sound limit in decibels and specifies the quiet times when the ordinance is enforced.

It's common for the quiet hours to go into effect late in the evening or early at night, typically around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. and continue until early in the morning, around 7 a.m. In some cities, noise ordinances might be designated by the type of neighborhood, such as residential versus commercial.

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What Types of Noise Can You Complain About?

You can file a noise complaint about any type of noise that exceeds the limit established in the law if it happens during the restricted hours. The limits vary by area but are often around 50 dBA at night and 55 dBA during the day. Some examples of noises that could potentially violate a noise ordinance include:

  • Loud music
  • Parties
  • Construction equipment
  • Industrial equipment from a commercial facility
  • Dog barking
  • Engine noises

The specific noise limit often varies by area. Some municipalities list a specific decibel level, while others keep it vague.

What Are the Steps to Filing a Noise Complaint?

Not sure how to file a noise complaint? While the process could vary slightly based on the local regulations and processes, the following steps are common to filing a noise complaint:

  1. Document and record the violation if possible, so you have evidence. By the time you file a complaint or call authorities, the loud noise could end.
  2. Review the local noise ordinances to see if you're dealing with a violation. Review the processes for filing a complaint in your jurisdiction.
  3. Contact the appropriate authorities based on the information you find. Your city might have a code enforcement agency, or the complaints might go to the nonemergency line with your local police department. Some areas offer online noise complaint filing, while others require you to call and report it.
  4. Provide any requested information about the violation, including the location, type of noise and how long it's been happening. Let them know if you have evidence of the violation.

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What Are Other Actions You Can Take Instead of Filing a Noise Complaint?

You might not need to go straight to filing a noise complaint. Sometimes you can take other actions to correct the issue. Here are some options:

  • Talk to the person responsible. If you have a good relationship with a noisy neighbor, you might be able to have a civil conversation with them to resolve the issue. Stay calm and explain why the noise is bothering you. They might not realize how disruptive it is.
  • Talk to the owner or landlord. Sometimes the person making the noise isn't the person in charge. The employees at a nearby store might be using loud equipment or playing loud music while they clean up, for example, or your neighbor might be a renter. Talking to the owner or landlord about your issues could yield good results.
  • Contact your landlord. If you're the renter and the offender is another person in your complex or building, your landlord could go to bat for you against your noisy neighbors. If the issue is with another tenant, the landlord can talk to them, and if it isn't, they can talk to the owner of the other home or building. Loud noise past a certain time of night may not only violate noise ordinances; someone causing a ruckus during quiet hours may be in violation of their lease as well.
  • Try mediation. An ongoing noise issue with a neighbor could run the risk of legal action. If you want to avoid taking them to court, see if they'll go through mediation to come up with a resolution. The neutral third party could help your neighbor see things from a different perspective and help you get some relief.

Can You File an Anonymous Noise Complaint?

You can typically file a noise complaint anonymously, but the police won't be able to follow up with you after they take action. If you want to know the outcome, you can provide your information but request that they don't tell your neighbor who filed the complaint.

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