Neighbors and Noise FAQ

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Questions:

Answer:

The neighbor in the house behind me plays his drums night and day. What can I do?

Fortunately, most communities have local noise ordinances that prohibit excessive, unnecessary, and unreasonable noise.  You can find yours by checking your city or county website (if you can’t find yours online, see www.statelocalgov.net), or call your mayor’s or city manager’s office.

 Here’s what to look for in your noise ordinance:

Quiet times. Most noise laws designate certain “quiet” times. Some types of noise may be allowed at some times, but not at others. Your neighbor’s drumming may be perfectly acceptable at 10 a.m., but not at 7 a.m. or midnight. After you find out your community’s quiet times, keep a log for a week or so of the time and day the drummer’s drumming. It might seem like the beat goes on (and on and on) 24-7, but the drumming might not even be occurring during set quiet times.

Decibel noise limits. Many communities prohibit sustained noise that exceeds a certain decibel level for residential areas. To see how loud the drumming is, you’ll need a decibel level machine (you can purchase one at an electronics store for less than $50). Keep notes of noise measurements in your log, along with the time of day you hear the drumming (the noise limit will probably vary depending on time of day). You can also ask the police to take noise measurements. (Most communities have electronic equipment for measuring noise when a neighbor complains.)

If the drumming noise is below the noise limits, and only occurs within reasonable hours, you probably won’t have the law behind you.  If however, the drumming exceeds the limits, especially if it occurs outside of designated quiet times, you have some leverage with your neighbor.

In either case, talk with your neighbor (noise ordinance and drumming log in hand). Be sensitive (now’s not the time to criticize the neighbor’s drumming skills). Attempt to work out a compromise (you’ll have more clout if the drumming is also bothering other neighbors—otherwise, you may come off as overly picky). It’s possible that your neighbor is not even aware that the drumming is bothering you. See the Neighbors and Noise FAQ for advice on approaching your neighbor about a noise problem, and options, such as mediation, if a conversation with your neighbor doesn’t work.

If the neighborhood drummer is clearly violating the local noise ordinance, call the police, only if you can’t work out a reasonable agreement.  The police may issue a warning, and even fine the drumming neighbor if he fails to comply with the law.

And remember, it could be worse: Think if your neighbors’ dog barked all night on their car alarm constantly want off in the middle of the night?

For more advice on dealing with noisy neighbors, see the Nolo book Neighbor Law, by Cora Jordan and Emily Doskow.

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