What Constitutes a Noise Violation?

Noise violations occur when a local noise ordinance isn’t followed. Generally, it involves excessive noise that’s deemed disturbing or disruptive to the local community. The offending noise can come from a range of sources, including people, pets, construction equipment, gardening tools, vehicles, music equipment, and more.

There is no plain and simple definition of what counts as a noise violation. Noise ordinances may have separate rules for sounds from different sources. Noise limits might also change depending on the time of day or day of the week, as well as based on other conditions. These rules are typically managed at the city or county level, leading to a wide array of requirements and limitations across the United States.

What Noise Ordinances Cover

Noise ordinances are laws that are designed to outline what’s considered acceptable noise levels within a specific physical area, such as a city or county. The primary goal is to keep excessive noise to a minimum, ensuring those living, working, and visiting in the area can enjoy a reasonably peaceful environment.

In many cases, noise ordinances are multi-faceted. Some are single, comprehensive regulations, while others are sprinkled throughout city codes. With the latter approach, the rules are generally outlined in chapters and sections that address specific situations, such as construction projects or nuisance animals.

Regardless of how they’re published, noise ordinances usually cover the same main points. Here’s an overview of what you’ll find in most noise ordinances.

Rules for Specific Types of Sounds

In most cases, noise ordinances don’t group all sources of sound together. Instead, the codes break them apart to set specific limits for different types of noise.

Typically, you’ll see rules that govern people-based noise, such as shouting, screaming, yelling, or party-based noise. There will also be rules governing the sounds created by pets and animals within the designated area.

Equipment-based noise usually has separate ordinances, and they’re often further divided up based on the source of the sound. For instance, there may be regulations for vehicles, lawn equipment, construction equipment, and power tools. Sound systems and musical instruments are also often addressed on their own.

Finally, many noise ordinances cover unique sources of sound, like fireworks. At times, you’ll also see specific codes addressing public gatherings or noise-generating businesses, such as concerts in local parks, area bars or clubs, and a range of other venues.

However, even if a particular source isn’t explicitly discussed in a noise ordinance, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t volume restrictions. Instead, noise ordinances often have broader clauses that address unspecified sources of sound, allowing local law enforcement or other agencies to tackle excessive noise beyond what’s specifically outlined.

Defining Acceptable Noise Level Ranges

Generally, a noise ordinance will define acceptable noise level ranges for various types of sounds. This helps them determine whether a noise violation is occurring, as it essentially sets a formal threshold where a person, animal, piece of equipment, or other source is failing to comply with the requirements.

You’ll usually see acceptable noise level ranges expressed one of two ways. First, some cities or counties list any limits in decibels (dB), which is a metric for measuring sound levels. With that, it’s possible to determine if a noise level is violating the noise ordinance with a decibel meter.

Second, some noise ordinances use distance-based measurements to determine if a sound is excessively loud. With these, there typically listed as a maximum number of feet from the source. If the sound carries beyond that maximum, it’s deemed in excess of the limits outlined in the noise ordinance.

Times and Days When Noise Rules Apply

Most noise ordinances alter the restrictions based on the time of day or day of the week. For example, sound limits are typically stricter during the night and early morning. While the exact timing can vary, it’s common for those tougher requirements to apply starting at 10:00 pm at night and running until 7:00 am in the morning. However, it’s essential to check your local code to confirm times in your area.

Additionally, some noise ordinances have different rules on weekends and weekdays. This can include having later quiet hours in the morning. For example, instead of ending the quiet period at 7:00 am, Saturday and Sunday morning quiet hours may last until 8:00 am. But this isn’t universally true, so it’s best to review your local noise codes to see if the times shift during the week.

Exceptions and Variances for Noise Ordinances

Within noise ordinances, there are commonly clauses that address exceptions or variance requests. For example, noise originating from public or community events, such as local sporting events, parades, fairs, approved concerts, public ceremonies, and similar occasions are often exempt.

Sounds from normal construction activity during approved daytime hours isn’t usually subject to noise ordinances. The same is true for emergency street, structure, or utility repairs, as well as required actions by firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical personnel responding to urgent matters.

Street cleaning and garbage services often have noise ordinance exemptions. The same is true of city or county-sponsored snow removal equipment activities relating to clearing roadways. Businesses within industrial zones might have different noise standards than residential areas, too.

However, even if an activity isn’t typically exempt, most noise ordinances include processes for requesting variances. These allow individuals and organizations to secure formal permission to violate the noise rules. The requirements for a variance differ by location, and no request is guaranteed approval, but receiving one can mean a person or company can legally produce sounds outside of the limits outlined in the code.

If a variance is issued, the person or entity that holds the approved variance is bound by the limits within the variance. Most variances are location-specific, so the adjusted permissions don’t apply broadly to all of the person’s or company’s activities if they aren’t conducted in that area. Additionally, they may also only apply to previously identified noise, so additional sources of sound not covered by the variance may still need to follow local noise ordinance rules.

Noise Ordinance Enforcement

The enforcement or noise ordinances are typically assigned to specific government entities. As a result, the codes may outline which agency is responsible for ensuring various noise ordinances are followed.

In smaller towns, it’s more common for the area to have a single central authority for most complaints. For example, the local police department may have purview over all noise issues, regardless of the sound of the source.

For larger cities, noise ordinance enforcement is often divvied out to a range of agencies or offices. For instance, police departments might handle noise related to parties or shouting people, while animal control oversees pet or animal-related noise issues, and building or development departments might address construction noise.

In many cases, you can find out how handles specific noise complaints by reviewing the ordinances or reviewing frequently asked questions (FAQs) on related government office websites. However, if you can’t find the details, you can typically contact the non-emergency information line at your local police department for insights. If the police don’t handle the type of noise you need to report, they can point you in the right direction.

Typical Sounds That Can Violate Noise Ordinances

A wide variety of sounds can lead to noise ordinance violations. One issue that’s commonly encountered is loud music or raucous parties. Most cities have rules that specifically address those situations as they’re highly disruptive to neighborhoods.

Yelling, screaming, or shouting by individuals or groups are other types of common noise violations, regardless of whether they’re associated with a party. Barking dogs or similar animal-related noises are similarly broadly part of noise codes. Again, they can potentially disturb the peace if the sounds are frequent and loud, regardless of the time of day.

Equipment-related and vehicle noise can violate noise ordinances, as well. This includes excessive sound during building construction, using lawn equipment or tools, revving car engines, squealing vehicle tires, not using a muffler, honking car horns, and more.

Musical instruments can also lead to noise violations. Regardless of the type or whether they’re played well, the sound is potentially disruptive. If they’re played at a high enough volume or during quiet hours, the musical instrument player could be in breach of noise ordinances.

Noise Ordinances for the Top 50 Cities in the United States

Noise ordinances do vary by location. As a result, it’s wise to check your local regulations to see what’s deemed unacceptable in your area.

Here’s a table with links to the noise ordinances and codes for the top 50 cities in the United States based on population:

MesaArizonaCity of Mesa Noise Ordinance 
PhoenixArizonaPhoenix City Code 
TucsonArizonaTucson Excessive Noise Code 
BakersfieldCaliforniaBakersfield Noise Code 
FresnoCaliforniaFresno Noise Control Code 
Long BeachCaliforniaCity of Long Beach Noise Code 
Los AngelesCaliforniaLos Angeles Noise Code 
OaklandCaliforniaOakland Noise Code 
SacramentoCaliforniaSacramento Noise Ordinance 
San DiegoCaliforniaSan Diego Noise Regulations
San FranciscoCaliforniaSan Francisco Noise Regulations 
San JoseCaliforniaCity of San Jose Noise Code 
Colorado SpringsColoradoColorado Springs Noise Code 
DenverColoradoDenver Noise Ordinance
WashingtonDCDistrict of Columbia Animal Code 
JacksonvilleFloridaJacksonville Noise Code 
MiamiFloridaMiami Noise Ordinance
AtlantaGeorgiaAtlanta Noise Control Code 
ChicagoIllinoisChicago Noise and Vibration Control Code 
IndianapolisIndianaIndianapolis Noise Code 
WichitaKansasWichita Noise Code 
LouisvilleKentuckyLouisville Noise Ordinance 
BaltimoreMarylandBaltimore Noise Regulation 
BostonMassachusettsBoston Noise Code 
DetroitMichiganDetroit Noise Code 
MinneapolisMinnesotaMinneapolis Noise Code 
Kansas CityMissouriKansas City Noise Control 
OmahaNebraskaOmaha Noise Ordinance 
Las VegasNevadaLas Vegas Noise Code 
AlbuquerqueNew MexicoAlbuquerque Noise Control 
New YorkNew YorkNYC Noise Code 
CharlotteNorth CarolinaCharlotte Noise Ordinance 
RaleighNorth CarolinaRaleigh Noise Rules
ColumbusOhioColumbus Noise Code 
Oklahoma CityOklahomaOklahoma City Noise Code 
TulsaOklahomaTulsa Noise Ordinances 
PortlandOregonPortland Noise Code 
PhiladelphiaPennsylvaniaPhiladelphia Noise Code 
MemphisTennesseeMemphis Noise Control 
NashvilleTennesseeNashville Noise Control 
ArlingtonTexasArlington Noise Ordinances 
AustinTexasAustin Noise Ordinance 
DallasTexasDallas Noise Code 
El PasoTexasEl Paso Noise Code 
Fort WorthTexasFort Worth Noise Code
HoustonTexasHouston Noise Ordinance 
San AntonioTexasSan Antonio Noise Ordinances 
Virginia BeachVirginiaVirginia Beach Noise Ordinance 
SeattleWashingtonSeattle Noise Codes 
MilwaukeeWisconsinMilwaukee Noise Control 

If you live in a city other than those listed above, you can look up local noise ordinances in your area online. Typically, conducting an online search for “[your city and state] noise ordinances” will point you in the right direction.

For anyone residing in an unincorporated area or outside of city limits, you’ll want to check noise ordinances for your county instead. Simple search for “[your county and state] noise ordinances to find information.

You can also call local agencies for insights about specific noise issues or answers to common questions. For example, contacting an animal control office that serves your area can help you learn more about animal-related noise ordinances. Agencies that issue or manage building permits can typically address questions about construction noise. You can also call the information line at your local police department.

Reporting Noise Violations

How you report a noise violation varies by location. Some enforcement agencies have simply online forms that allow members of the public to notify them of issues quickly. In other cases, you may need to call the local enforcement agency directly.

If you aren’t sure how to report a noise violation, perform an online search. Enter “[your city and state] noise complaint” and you’ll often see a result that lets you know who to contact and how to reach out. When in doubt, contact your local police department’s non-emergency line.

However, there are other approaches that may work. If it seems safe to do so, you can speak with the person who’s creating excessive noise and request that they tone it down. If you’re a renter and the noise is caused by another tenant, contact your landlord for assistance. That may lead to faster results than turning to an enforcement agency, so it’s worth considering.

Note: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.