More and more American homeowners are noticing that their neighbors not only seem to have a lot of guests going in and out, but are actually renting the place out to vacationers, perhaps on a site such as Airbnb. That can mean regularly having new temporary neighbors, who might stay up late enjoying the hot tub and drinking or playing loud music.
Is there a way to get your neighbors to stop using their house as a short-term rental altogether so you can sleep again?
As with many neighbor disputes, it's often best to first try to resolve the matter informally. It's possible the owners are unaware of the problem, since they aren't around to witness the behavior of their short-term tenants. Alerting them to your concerns and suggesting solutions, such as posting “house rules” for the renters to abide by, might be useful.
If an informal conversation is not beneficial, mediation might work.
In some U.S. jurisdictions, short-term rentals are regulated. For example, to limit the number of vacation rentals in a single neighborhood, a city might not allow someone to use a house as a vacation rental if there is another vacation rental within 250 feet.
To see whether vacation rentals are regulated in your area, review the applicable zoning ordinance (also called a “development code”). If the zoning ordinance is unclear, call the local planning department for help or hire a land use attorney to help you determine whether any regulations or restrictions apply to the use of your neighbors’ property as a short-term rental.
If you live in a developed community, also consider is whether any private covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) prohibit short-term vacation rentals or control noise. For example, if your house is a condo or townhouse in a subdivision with CC&Rs prohibiting loud noises after 10 p.m., you might be able to file a complaint with the homeowners’ association.
If your attempts at informal measures (above) got nowhere, it might be worth trying once more, armed with any new legal information you found; or perhaps writing a warning letter to your neighbor.
If you discover that your neighbors are using their house as a vacation rental in violation of the zoning ordinance, one option is to file a complaint with your local code enforcement department. The department will investigate the use of the property.
Through this process, your neighbors will receive notice of the complaint and pending investigation. If code enforcement confirms a violation of the zoning ordinance, your neighbors may be ordered to stop using the property as a vacation rental or else face a penalty, such as a fine.
Even if using the property as a vacation rental does not violate a zoning ordinance, most jurisdictions also have laws prohibiting nuisances and obnoxious noises. A nuisance is usually defined as: “something that interferes with the use of property by being irritating, offensive, obstructive, or dangerous.”
There might also be noise regulations that prohibit, among other noises, “any yelling, shouting, hooting, whistling, singing or other human-produced noise that is unnecessarily loud.“
Noise and nuisance regulations are usually enforced by the local law enforcement agency, so you will need contact local law enforcement. A call from the police might serve as a wake up for your neighbors.
Although a lawsuit involves time, money, and risk, it's another option to consider. If the noise and partying is excessive, there might be a basis upon which to claim "private nuisance." You can ask the court to award money damages as well as an injunction ordering your neighbors to immediately stop renting their property as a short term vacation rental.
A benefit to seeking only money damages is that, if the amount is below the jurisdictional limit in your state (for example, $10,000), you can file the lawsuit in small claims court.
If you seek more than the jurisdictional limit or seek an injunction, you will need to file in a regular or circuit court. Before incurring the cost and risk associated with filing a lawsuit, consider mediation and talk to a lawyer.