We’ve all been there: silently fuming while desperately trying to fall asleep, get work done, or just go about the day in peace as a neighbor shatters the silence with some racket. The deafening music, the raised voices, unrelenting hammering, or other distracting noises can become a nightmare, especially in a building where you’re in close proximity—or even sharing walls—with your neighbors.
If you own your home, you’re going to have to figure out how to handle the noise pollution yourself—but what if you rent? Whose job is it to curb the commotion, yours or your landlord’s?
Keeping residential noise to a dull roar has become especially prevalent as more of us have moved to working from home. In fact, all kinds of noise ordinances have cropped up in the past few years. In Boulder, CO, for example, it is now illegal to make any noise above 70 decibels in a residential area. In communities across California, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, and Arizona, regulations against excessive leaf blower noise have been instituted.
And while some of these rules may seem extreme, studies show that noise pollution does more than just bug people; it also affects their mental health. (One study found that people in noisy neighborhoods were 25% more likely to be depressed.)
Below, we broach this touchy subject and provide clarity for renters who find themselves in this situation. Here’s how to deal with noisy neighbors and what to do if the problem isn’t being resolved.
Landlord or renter? It depends!
Laws vary by state, and different types of residences also have to be taken into consideration.
“The situation changes depending on whether you’re talking about a duplex or multifamily property, or a single-family rental home,” says Jacob Naig, owner of We Buy Houses in Des Moines, IA. “In a single-family home, if the neighbor is having late-night parties or causing a general noise disturbance, the occupier should address the situation with the neighbor politely and then place a call to the police if they don’t comply.”
But if it’s a large apartment or anywhere that an interior wall is shared, the dynamics change.
“I would still suggest trying to talk to the neighbor first, and see if you can resolve the situation,” says Naig. “If it doesn’t work, the landlord will have to step in. Vacancy costs every landlord, and they’ll do what they can so they don’t have to turn over the units.”
No matter where you live, you should read the fine print of your lease agreement, and add any clauses regarding noise that you foresee being relevant.
“In Missouri, for example, the landlord-tenant law does not specify that the landlord has to deal with a noisy tenant,” says Bob Scott, founder of Sell Land, based in Missouri. “But if you specify beforehand in the lease agreement that your landlord should deal with noisy neighbors, then they will be legally obligated to enforce this provision if they signed the agreement.”
What to do if the ruckus won’t stop
As a renter, if you find yourself in an unmanageable situation with a noisy neighbor, there are several ways to address the problem, without requiring a change of address.
“The tenants who live in a rental house have the right to quiet,” says Ben Fisher, a luxury real estate specialist at the Fisher Group in Park City, UT. “Landlords are ultimately responsible for resolving inconveniences created by loud neighbors.” So your first step should be to contact the landlord and report the excessive noise.
You should also look up your city’s laws about noise. Many areas have designated quiet hours or decibel noise limits. So if your city’s quiet hours run from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., keep a log of every time your neighbor is practicing tuba inside of those hours. You can present this log as further proof that your neighbor is breaking the law.
If going to your landlord proves futile and the ruckus won’t stop, the next step is to contact the police. This strategy will be most effective when the noise is actually happening.
Ultimately though, you may just have to move.
“You are free to leave your rental without any further responsibility in such a case if you have provided a proper amount of notice,” Fisher says.
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