How to Deal with Unreasonable Noise Complaints

Close-quarters living comes with its fair share of challenges, including the occasional noise-sensitive neighbor. If you’ve been a major topic of noise-related discussion, it’s easy to become frustrated.

Whether they’ve made unreasonable noise complaints to your landlord, local law enforcement, or you directly, there are steps you can take to diffuse the situation. If you’re being targeted by unreasonable noise complaints, here’s how to deal with the situation.

Review Local Noise Ordinances

Before you do anything else, you need to take a moment to make sure that the noise complaints are genuinely unreasonable. There’s a chance that you are violating a rule even if the sounds don’t seem overly loud to you, which makes checking a must.

Begin by researching local noise ordinances in your area. In most cases, noise ordinances are set at the city or county level, so it’s best to start your search there.

You’ll typically find volume limits within a noise ordinance, such as a maximum decibel level or maximum amount of distance a sound emanating from a residential spot can be before being considered a nuisance. Additionally, you may find quiet hours, a period during which the noise-related rules are stricter.

Review the rules and assess your past behavior honestly. That way, you can determine whether you’re violating local laws.

Check for Noise Clauses in Your Lease

Another step you need to take to see if the noise complaints are unreasonable is reviewing your lease. In close-quarters housing – such as apartment buildings and townhouses – landlords often put disturbance or noise-related clauses in the lease agreements to help keep the peace.

In some cases, disturbance or noise clauses mimic local law. However, some landlords have more stringent policies in place. As a result, you need to review your lease to confirm whether the noise coming from your unit is potentially excessive.

Adopt the Right Mindset

As you prepare for additional actions, it’s important to adopt the right mindset. There is a chance that a volume level you deem reasonable would broadly be considered bothersome by others.

Noise preferences and sensitivities vary from one person to the next. As a result, it’s best to avoid labeling your neighbor as “unreasonable” in your mind. If you do, you may approach the situation from a place of resentment or defiance instead of being solution-oriented, something that can make a challenging issue worse.

Instead, assume that the neighbor isn’t unreasonable and, instead, simply has a different view of the situation. That way, you can handle things with a better mindset.

Make Simple Adjustments

If the noise complaints focus on one sound source, see if you can make any simple adjustments to limit it. For example, you could try closing your windows to prevent the noise from being audible outside your unit. Moving speakers off of the floor and away from walls may help if they are the noise source.

Consider where the sound originates from, as well as how it may travel through your unit and into the neighbor’s home. That way, you can see if any easy adjustments could resolve the issue.

Have a Calm Conversation

Have a calm conversation with your neighbor once you determine whether you’ve been violating local noise ordinances or the lease. If it isn’t clear from the complaints that have been levied against you, you need to determine what kind of noise has been bothering them and why the sound led to a complaint.

There’s a chance that your neighbor is in a unique situation that’s made them noise-sensitive. For example, maybe they work nights and have to sleep during the day. Perhaps they have a newborn that is struggling to sleep through errant sounds.

Let your neighbor know that you’re there to help find a solution to the issue. See if they’ll clue you in to the reasoning and motivations behind their noise complaints, giving you a starting point.

If they do, spend a moment discussing why the noise is occurring. Don’t attempt to justify activity they perceive as you being a nuisance. Instead, talk about what was taking place (if it wasn’t clear to them what was causing the sound), as well as why you handle those tasks in your unit at that particular time.

By sharing your side without attempting to excuse actions they perceive as an issue, they may determine that their complaints were unreasonable on their own. For example, if an appliance that came with the unit is responsible, they may see that you’re not trying to be bothersome. Additionally, if you can’t fix the issue or replace the appliance, they may realize that the noise is out of your control.

When in doubt, start this part of the conversation with an apology. For example, if a loud fridge is to blame, you could say, “I’m sorry about the noise. It appears to be coming from the refrigerator when the condenser is running.”

Find a Way to Compromise

If the noise situation is something you can control, consider compromising with the neighbor. If you can adjust the noise level, talk with them to determine what volume may not be as bothersome. Remember, just because you find a noise level reasonable doesn’t mean others feel the same, so be open to adjusting the volume as a means of keeping the peace.

For sounds that you can’t control the volume of, such as the sound of a vacuum cleaner, figure out if there is a particular time of day when the noise wouldn’t be an issue that also works with your schedule. This may take a little back and forth in some cases, particularly if you work outside of the home and are only in the unit at specific times. But it’s a discussion worth having if you want to resolve the situation.

Trade Contact Information

Having each other’s contact information can help quell the noise complaints. For one, if the neighbor has an issue with the noise, they can reach out to you directly. That way, you can try to resolve the issue without involving other parties.

For another, you can give the neighbor advanced notice if you’re planning a potentially loud activity. Similarly, you can use it to discuss when would be convenient for a noisy task to happen, effectively continuing negotiations on an activity-by-activity basis.

Speak with Your Landlord

Whether your landlord has been involved up to this point or not, if you’ve spoken with your neighbor and made reasonable adjustments and they still aren’t appeased, you need to get your landlord involved. Let them know the situation that’s been unfolding, as well as any efforts you’ve made to address the issue. Additionally, provide evidence showing that the noise wasn’t unreasonable if you have it available.

In some cases, your landlord will have options for addressing issues that aren’t available to you. For example, they may be able to replace or repair a noisy appliance or add soundproofing to the building.

Plus, if the neighbors repeated unjustified complaints are considered harassment, and that is a violation of the lease, the landlord can handle that. It isn’t uncommon for leases to have behavior-related clauses, particularly for apartment buildings or other close-quarters situations. Often, you can check yours to see if that’s the case and, if the neighbor is violating one of those rules, make the landlord aware of that, too.

File a Harassment Complaint

If you’ve made every reasonable effort to keep the noise down and local law enforcement and your landlord agree that the sound isn’t out of line, you may need to file a harassment complaint. While this should be used as a last resort and may not alter their behavior, it does create proof that the situation is occurring.

Similarly, you may be able to sue your neighbor for harassment. With this, you’ll want evidence that you’ve taken reasonable steps to address the noise, as well as proof that the landlord and local authorities did not find an issue when responding to noise complaint calls.

Additionally, if you have proof that you spoke with the neighbor and attempted to appease them, that works in your favor. This is especially true if you continuously made adjustments at their request, but that didn’t stop the complaints.

However, a lawsuit should also be considered a last resort. Often, the process can be cumbersome and costly. But if you have no other recourse, it’s worth considering.