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Noisy Neighbors: How to Turn Down the Volume

When your next-door neighbor’s decrepit air conditioning unit clanks and whirs so loudly you can’t sleep even with earplugs, or your upstairs neighbors clomp around day and night on hardwood floors, it’s time to launch a campaign to quiet your noisy neighbors.

Show your noisy neighbors how loud they are.

Step one in your noisy neighbor silencing plan is to invite them over to hear firsthand what you hear. If the neighbors smile, nod, and ignore your verbal request, write them a polite note about the problem and keep a copy for yourself. This note and others that you’ll write will help prove your case if you have to take your complaint to court later on. But first…

Tell the HOA how noisy your neighbor is.

When they continue being noisy neighbors, take your complaint to the first rung on the local authority ladder.

If you live in a home owners association, write the board or manager a note asking what your Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) say about noise. Do the CC&Rs say second-floor unit owners have to carpet floors so you don’t have to listen to their clomping feet? Keep a copy of the note to the HOA and their response for your files.

If the CC&Rs are silent about noise reduction, ask the board to mediate between you and your noisy neighbor, providing both a neutral ear and a venue for the discussion.

If the HOA refuses to help, ask your neighbors if they’re having noise issues and if they’ll come to a board meeting with you. Or, run for the HOA board and work to pass noise-reduction rules.

Ask the city to quiet your noisy neighbor.

If the HOA route fails, or if you’re not in an HOA, turn to city noise ordinances. City hall can connect you with the noise cops in your town—probably planning and zoning in a small town, or environmental quality in a larger city. Write or call the appropriate group, asking that a noise control officer come out and measure exactly how much noise your noisy neighbor is making.

If the noisy neighbor is loud enough, then the noise enforcement officer can issue a citation. You can also call the cops every time your neighbor gets too loud, which might create yet another citation, or at least a verbal warning to your neighbor.

Keep a copy of that correspondence and notes about when you call the cops, as well as times your noisy neighbor disturbed you, but you didn’t call the cops.

Sue your noisy neighbor

If you’re determined to make noisy neighbors shut up already, and none of those civil options has worked, you can sue them in small claims court. You don’t need a lawyer, but you will need detailed records of all the things you’ve tried to silence your noisy neighbor:

  • Copies of letters you sent the noisy neighbor, the HOA, and the city
  • A list of times the noisy neighbor has been noisy
  • Videos of the noisy neighbor’s dog barking at 2 a.m.
  • Copies of citations, if you can get them

Such items show how hard you’ve worked to solve the problem before turning to the courts. Judges like people who’ve tried nicely and politely to solve their own problems.

Small claims court is a lot like the Judge Judy show on television. You ask for compensation because your noisy neighbor is disturbing the peaceful enjoyment of your home. Your noisy neighbors, if they show up, argue that you’re a crank. You whip out your paperwork and other evidence to prove your side of the story and, hopefully, win.

If your HOA and your town blow you off, and you don’t want to go to court, you still have three options left:

  • Live with it.
  • Move. No doubt, you’ll check the soundproofing before you buy your next home, right?
  • Soundproof. You’ll probably end up creating pockets of air to channel the sound away and adding sound-absorbing materials in the walls. An accoustical consultant can help you figure out what will and won’t work in your home.

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These articles are not intended to give legal or tax advice, and you should consult your attorney or financial advisor for additional information.

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