Whether you’re a renter in an apartment building, a duplex, or any other rental home, you deserve relatively quiet living conditions, no matter how many neighbors live nearby.
While neighborly noise is to be expected once in a while, a neighbor’s blaring stereo, shouting matches, or late night dance parties might take things too far. So what should you do when you can’t handle the noise?
What Not to Do: A Personal Story
During my renter years, I moved into what seemed like an ideal scenario: a budget rent price for a modest upstairs unit in a landlord’s house. Things seemed great at first, until the landlord and her teenage daughters regularly shouted at one another from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m., consistently waking me after just a few hours of sleep. If I tapped on the floor (their ceiling) to remind them of the noise, the landlord yelled at me to shut up! Unbelievable, right?
They also kept a young doberman in a cage while they were away at work and school. Naturally, he wasn’t thrilled about and he barked. A lot. When the kids came home from school, he barked even more, at which point the angrier of the teens would shake the cage and shout at the dog. I’m sure it was traumatic for the dog, and all the noise and anger traumatized me for years, even after I left.
I couldn’t afford to move out, so I dealt with the nighttime noise by turning on a loud fan before bed each night to help lessen the impact of the downstairs discord. I was afraid to complain too much for fear of eviction, especially since we didn’t have a written lease. Once I finally earned enough to move out, I moved, posthaste.
Don’t put yourself through the anguish I suffered for years when I was too inexperienced to know how to handle such things. Every renter — even in a situation such as mine — has a right to quiet enjoyment, the right to a peaceful place to live. This doesn’t mean you won’t hear an upstairs neighbor walking or moving furniture from time to time. It means the place should be peaceful enough from day to day to sleep or to carry on daily activities without being interrupted by aggravating levels of neighborly noise.
Step 1: Give a Simple Neighborly Suggestion
If you know your neighbor — at least well enough to share a friendly smile or “hello” once in a while — point out in a calm, gentle manner that their speakers, dog, or television is so loud it’s disruptive. It could be that they’re unaware that anyone else can hear what goes on behind closed doors, or maybe they think their dog is quiet while they’re away for the day. For your own records, write down the date, a summary of what each of you said to one another, and whether the issue was resolved.
If you feel intimidated about approaching your neighbor directly, go to Step 3 below.
Step 2: Read Your Lease
If your neighbor isn’t responsive or repeatedly causes a cacophony that keeps you up all hours of the night, it may be time for more serious action. If you live in a building, read your rental agreement to look for any language about excessive noise. Make a copy of the page, highlighting the appropriate information, and give it to the noisy neighbor. Be sure to point out any verbiage about potential for eviction due to noise violations or information about “quiet hours” in which all tenants are expected to be relatively quiet.
Step 3: Contact the Landlord
Contact your landlord, and spell out exactly what’s going on: the type of noise, when and how often it happens, and any methods you’ve taken to try to resolve the issue yourself. If the noise has been going on for hours, ask an on-site property manager or the landlord to check out the situation while it’s happening.
Step 4: Get Your Town Involved
If your neighbor’s noise can be heard outside or from shared common areas such as a hallway, they may be in violation of local noise ordinances. Contact the non-emergency police number if you can’t find this information on your town’s website. Ask the representative for information about noise regulations. If your neighbor is in violation of the ordinance, let the landlord know. It’s in the landlord’s best interest to deal with the problem since he or she could be held responsible and receive a warning or citation.
If the noise sounds dangerous or threatening or all of your efforts have seemed in vain so far, contact the police. This approach works best if the noise has been going on for hours or if it happens at the same time regularly. The police or a noise-enforcement official may visit with a decibel meter to determine whether your neighbors are in violation of local laws.
Step 4: Arrange a Meeting
Contact other neighbors to see if they’ve been bothered by the noise. If so, arrange a meeting with your landlord and all affected, including the noisy neighbor. Power in numbers may be enough to convince the neighbor to quiet down or for the landlord to evict a noisy tenant. If it seems the noisy person isn’t interested in quieting down, inform them that you and the others plan to take them to small claims court if things don’t change. Also say that the cause is well-documented by you, other tenants, the landlord, and even local authorities. All of this evidence may be enough to create a peaceful environment.
Alternate Action: Moving Out
Since you are guaranteed a peaceful living environment, you may have the right to terminate your lease if lack of peace is an ongoing issue.