Noise Complaints in Apartments: Rules, Rights and Fixes
Few things can sour apartment living more than the nightmare of excessive noise. Whether the source is loud music, stomping feet, or barking dogs, noise from neighboring units often ranks among top tenant complaints. The peaceful enjoyment of apartment living erodes when the home becomes incompatible with relaxation, work, or sleep.
In shared spaces such as a multi-family building, neighbors expect and tolerate some degree of normal living noise. However, where should the line be drawn?
The goal for both landlords and tenants should be to find mutually agreeable solutions whenever possible. For tenants, being neighborly and working together to compromise goes a long way. Meanwhile, landlords are responsible for investigating complaints and enforcing lease terms when excessive noise becomes a recurrent issue.
This guide covers the most common types of noise complaints, determines what levels are excessive, and names the strategies both tenants and landlords can use to resolve issues. With some cooperation and communication, noise doesn't have to be a major issue in your rental property.
Types of noise complaints
What are some of the common noise complaints in apartments that affect tenants' quiet enjoyment of the property? Let's look at some valid noise compliant examples, as well as types of everyday noise.
Whether it's blasting music late at night, early in the morning, or even during daytime hours, noise complaints about loud music rank among the top issues property owners have to handle from tenants. With a powerful modern speaker system, music can easily go through walls and floors, disrupting the peace and quiet of surrounding units.
Some tenants may not realize how much the bass vibrations travel, while other tenants simply don't care. No matter whether renters turn the music up to unwind after work or crank up the volume for weekend parties, it ends up interfering with other tenants' space.
The affected neighbors understandably feel infuriated when loud, thumping music disrupts their attempts to sleep, work from home, watch TV, or simply enjoy peace and quiet.
Pets are common in many rental units, which is generally a positive thing when responsible owners pick the right breed for an apartment lifestyle. However, dog owners don't always realize how much constant barking can negatively affect the living experience of tenants in nearby units.
Dogs left alone during the day while owners are at work may bark excessively due to separation anxiety. Dogs may also bark frequently at night when they hear noises coming from the hallway or from outdoors, disturbing neighbors' sleep. Certain breeds may be more prone to barking as well. Either way, excessive barking from a neighbor's dog is a common reason for conflict and noise complaints in apartments.
While the occasional social gathering or get-together is perfectly normal, frequent late-night parties with blasting music and loud, drunk guests inevitably generate noise complaints. The demographics of the rental property can also impact noise complaints. For instance, student housing rentals can have more problems with loud parties and noise complaints.
Not many tenants want to live near an apartment unit that turns into a nuisance multiple times a week. Even when parties are limited to weekends, they can still significantly disrupt tenants who are trying to get to sleep early or have small children. Being kept awake until dawn by a neighbor's party guests can test anyone's limits.
Renovations and construction
As a landlord, you'll obviously need to do renovations, repairs, maintenance, and other improvements on rental units over time. But construction noise like hammering, sawing, or drilling can be extremely disruptive to tenant life if not properly managed. Things like tile saws and jackhammers are loud enough to make life difficult for surrounding units.
Tenants also commonly do smaller DIY projects or renovation work in their units. The noise and disruption created by apartment renovations and construction can be major sources of tenant complaints to property management. Proper scheduling around tenants' lives helps to facilitate quiet enjoyment and tenant satisfaction.
Noise from motor vehicles, such as loud engines, blasting car stereos, and screeching tires, can be a major nuisance for apartment residents. Tenants trying to enjoy peace and quiet can be disturbed by neighbors who play music loudly in their parked cars, rev motorcycle engines excessively, or squeal their tires coming and going from the property. Parking lots, garages, and carports on rental properties can create noisy disruptions.
Excessive noise from vehicles in apartment complexes can disrupt residents' quality of life. Late nights and early mornings are often the worst times, when loud music, engines, and tires from parking lots travel far and wide across the property.
Even during daytime hours, aftermarket exhaust systems and squealing peel outs disrupt neighbors and can lead to noise complaints in apartments. Renters often feel trapped by the onslaught of noise pollution surrounding their units, unable to enjoy normal activities or a peaceful environment.
Regular living noises
Even when people are just going about daily life in an apartment building, certain inevitable noises may irritate sensitive neighbors. Footsteps and thuds from kids running around in upstairs units, toilets flushing through thin walls, voices in hallways — these types of mundane noises are simply part of co-existing in shared space.
Tenants have different noise tolerances. Some people get really annoyed by even the quietest sounds, like footsteps upstairs or a toilet flushing nearby. But for others, these kinds of noises are normal and not bothersome.
But when does "normal" living noise, like walking to the kitchen or sneezing, become excessive and unbearable? In many cases, it's a tricky judgment call.
Defining excessive noise in apartments
What level of noise is truly unreasonable and excessive for an apartment building? How do you make fair, consistent judgments about noise complaints in apartments?
Here are some guidelines that property managers and tenants can use:
Local noise ordinances
Most local governments have noise ordinances establishing legal limits on noise levels, especially for quiet overnight hours. Basic noise laws typically prohibit sustained sounds over certain noise levels during set time periods, with lower thresholds late at night and early morning.
The lease agreement or contract should clearly outline the apartment community's noise and quiet hours policies. These written policies provide a documented standard that all residents must follow, aimed at reducing unreasonable noise levels that infringe on neighbors' rights to the quiet enjoyment of their homes.
There may be specific lease clauses prohibiting certain noise-generating activities known to create noise complaints in apartments. Defining expectations around these common yet disruptive behaviors promotes harmony. The lease agreement gives landlords grounds to require tenants to accommodate valid noise complaints that disrupt the environment.
Using reasonable judgment
Even with local ordinances and lease language as a guide, determining what sounds are excessive still requires reasonable judgment calls in many everyday noise scenarios. There are always unclear areas when deciding on noise complaints in apartments.
You should weigh the severity, frequency, time of day, and duration of questionable noises against reasonable standards.
Tenant strategies for handling noise complaints
Before involving the landlord or property manager, there are several constructive steps tenants can take on their own when dealing with noise from a neighbor:
1. Speak directly and politely
Having a respectful conversation directly with the neighbor making the noise should always be your first step. Approach them politely and explain how the noise is disturbing you. Many noise issues arise simply because neighbors are unaware of how much sound travels between rental units. A polite request may be all that's needed to find a mutually agreeable solution.
2. Seek a compromise
Try to reach a compromise if possible, like agreeing on certain quiet hours or acceptable volume levels. Offer to reciprocate and keep your own noise down during the agreed times. Shared compromise and cooperation go a long way toward peaceful coexistence.
3. Document incidents
If the excessive noise persists after speaking to your neighbor, document each incident. Note the date, time, source and type of noise, duration, and any interactions you had. Audio or video recordings can help support your case, but be sure to check local laws regarding consent for recordings beforehand.
Detailed documentation helps the landlord understand the frequency and pattern of disruption and demonstrates your attempts to resolve it personally.
4. Involve the landlord as the mediator
If speaking directly with the neighbor fails to resolve the issue, politely ask the landlord to intervene as a mediator. The landlord can speak to the noisy neighbor on your behalf and propose a compromise, acting as a neutral third party to help resolve the conflict. This is better than immediately filing an official noise complaint.
Landlord strategies for handling noise complaints
When tenants come to you as a landlord or property manager with a noise complaint, there are several steps you can take to determine if it's a valid complaint:
1. Listen attentively and empathetically
Give the tenant your complete attention when they share the details of the noise disturbance they're experiencing. You'll need details like when the noise typically occurs, the exact source, what times of day, how loud and disruptive it is to their lifestyle, how long it has been an issue, and any other useful context.
Ask clarifying questions if needed, but concentrate on actively and empathetically listening to understand their frustrations and build rapport. Document the specifics of their grievance so you can reference it later when investigating further.
2. Gather comprehensive, objective details
In addition to listening closely to the tenant's verbal account, take proactive steps to collect more factual information about the noise complaint.
- Ask thoughtful follow-up questions.
- Identify the precise unit the noise seems to be originating from.
- Determine what particular days of the week and times of day it mainly happens.
- Check if other neighbors have also reported being disturbed by the same noise.
- Request they keep a detailed log over a week or two documenting the specific dates, times, noise types, durations, impacts, and any interactions they had.
Documentation from multiple sources will allow you to evaluate the legitimacy and severity of the grievance.
3. Investigate in person when noise violations become frequent
Avoid making hasty conclusions solely based on the initial complaining tenant's narrative. Make time in your schedule to personally visit the rental property and listen firsthand to the noise in real-time.
See if the volume, frequency, time of day, and duration are unreasonable based on your professional standards and local noise ordinances. Direct and on-site observation during the times a tenant is making too much noise helps determine if the complaint is exaggerated or truly a valid issue.
4. Distinguish between valid and invalid complaints
Consider various factors to decide what is normal noise versus a complaint that merits intervention. If multiple tenants report being bothered by the same excessive noise, this shared grievances most likely indicates a legitimate issue, rather than an exaggerated or unreasonable complaint from one sensitive tenant.
Compare your direct observations during investigation against local noise ordinance thresholds. Noise that seems loud and disruptive to you as the professional property manager likely crosses the line for tenants.
While you aim to maintain strict standards, also allow for normal, everyday living sounds typical in apartment communities. Address genuine issues while preventing over-policing. Your balanced judgment and consistent enforcement helps sustain healthy environments where all residents have a right to quiet enjoyment.
5. Have a polite discussion with the suspected noisy tenant
Reach out to the tenant suspected of causing the excessive noise for a polite and friendly discussion. Make them aware of the complaint while remaining neutral, and give them a chance to explain their perspective.
Provide specific examples of noisy behaviors reported by the neighbor and suggest potential solutions, like reducing volume during quiet hours. A thoughtful initial conversation prevents tensions from escalating.
6. Mediate a discussion between involved parties
If the suspected noisy tenant remains uncooperative after your initial discussion, propose a mediated conversation between all involved parties to find mutually agreeable compromises. Having the complaining tenant explain directly how the noise is impacting their lifestyle, sleep, and health often encourages more empathy and understanding from the noisy neighbor.
As a mediator, guide the discussion by asking questions to uncover simple, agreeable solutions, like adding rugs or rearranging appliances to reduce transmitted sounds.
7. Issue official written warnings referencing lease policies
If prior discussions and mediation attempts prove ineffective after a valid noise complaint, issue the violating tenant an official written warning referencing the relevant lease policies. Be sure to quote the exact sections of the lease agreement that outline permissible noise levels.
Clearly document your previous conversations where you notified them of the valid noise complaint and provided opportunities to rectify it. In addition, provide details on prior complaints from neighbors disturbed by the same excessive noise disturbances. Lastly, reinforce that they must immediately comply with the rules they agreed to upon signing.
8. Follow up with fines or eviction if needed
You never want noise issues to deteriorate to the point of requiring formal penalties or eviction. However, chronic excessive noise impairing other tenants' basic quality of life despite multiple warnings warrants strictly enforcing lease consequences.
Applying fines or pursuing legal eviction reinforces community rules and expectations, provides relief to affected tenants, and motivates cooperation from the offender. Just be sure you have documented the ongoing issues and previous attempts at informal resolution before progressing to formal legal actions.
Mistakes that landlords need to avoid when handling noise complaints
When tenants come to you with apartment noise complaints, be sure to respond in a careful, fair, and legally compliant manner. Some common mistakes to avoid as a property manager include:
- Dismissing complaints without investigating: Never assume a tenant is exaggerating or filing a petty grievance without first witnessing the noise yourself during the reported disruptive hours. Take every complaint seriously, and take steps to personally validate the claims before reaching conclusions.
- Making immediate threats or punitive actions: Don't resort quickly to severe consequences or penalties without first issuing warnings and earnestly seeking compromises through discussion. Jumping to aggressive actions like fines or evictions without due process opens you up to potential allegations of violating fair housing laws.
- Failing to document noise issues thoroughly: Always document complaints and incidents in writing, including specific dates, times, durations, decibel readings if possible, exact lease citations violated, and detailed steps you took to address the matter. Lack of proper documentation severely undermines enforcement efforts down the road.
- Enforcing noise rules inconsistently: Don't crack down on noise for some tenants while ignoring or downplaying similar violations by others. Inconsistent, selective enforcement can prompt tenants to initiate a discrimination lawsuit against you. Apply your reasonable noise standards fairly and equally.
- Neglecting to issue written warning notices: Before you pursue fines, penalties, or eviction proceedings, give tenants official written warnings. These should point out lease terms around excessive noise and pre-defined consequences.
- Ignoring disability accommodation requests: Consider reasonable exceptions or adjustments to standard noise rules due to a tenant's verified disability, as these requests could qualify as reasonable disability accommodation. Be sure to consult attorneys for help dealing with noise complaints in such situations.
- Retaliating against tenants who complain: Never treat a tenant who complained about noise issues negatively by arbitrarily raising their rent, declining lease renewals, or taking other adverse actions solely based on their noise reports. Retaliation violates fair housing laws and exposes you to liability.
Preventing noise complaints
While responding fairly to tenant noise complaints is important, the ideal solution is preventing major noise issues before they occur and escalate. Landlords can take several key steps during the rental application process and ongoing management:
Thoroughly screen incoming tenants
Review rental applications carefully, looking for any prior noise complaints, disputes with neighbors, or evictions related to repeated disturbances. Detailed background checks that contact previous landlords can uncover these red flags.
Avoid renting units to new tenants with a documented history of noise issues or disrespecting neighbors — their past behavior predicts future problems.
Set clear expectations
Make sure your rental lease agreement or contract has clear clauses restricting excessive noise during defined hours and specifying prohibited activities or behaviors.
Specify that substantial lease violations can result in fines or eviction per local laws after written warnings. Explain these rules to all tenants upon signing leases to set firm expectations from day one.
Draft clear noise rules and policies for the apartment building beyond the lease, such as quiet hours mandating lower noise levels. Circulate these supplemental guidelines to all current tenants in writing.
Post friendly flyers in building common areas reminding tenants to be considerate of noise, especially later at night when most people sleep. Periodic reminders can help maintain compliance.
Respond promptly to tenant complaints
Encourage tenants to report excessive noise issues promptly to you and respond quickly to investigate and attempt resolutions. Handling complaints early before they escalate helps contain problems.
Tenants will be more willing to stay neighborly if you reinforce that noise regulations are taken very seriously and enforced consistently and promptly.
Incentivize tenants to self-manage
Consider small rent credits or rewards for tenants who can facilitate successful resolutions amongst themselves on noise problems without needing landlord intervention. This incentivizes tenants to exercise diplomacy and compromise between themselves.
Legal protections against excessive apartment noise
Local and federal regulations define tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities related to apartment noise issues. Consider the following potential noise regulations in your area:
Local noise ordinances and fines
Most cities and towns impose legal limits on noise through local ordinances, especially during overnight hours. Police can cite and fine tenants for noise ordinance violations. Excessive noise from a unit may violate these municipal codes.
Lease clauses and eviction processes
The tenant rental lease agreement outlines noise and disturbance clauses. It allows landlords to enforce these clauses through warnings, fines, or eviction proceedings when tenants violate them. This enforcement addresses documented contract violations.
Local landlord-tenant laws dictate proper eviction notice procedures landlords must follow before a judge will order tenant removal and lockouts. Landlords cannot arbitrarily evict or lock out tenants without a court order.
Fair Housing Act protections
Federal and local fair housing laws require landlords to make reasonable exceptions to noise rules for tenants with disabilities. Landlords need to evaluate these requests and make accommodations when possible.
Right to quiet enjoyment
State landlord-tenant laws often include an implied "covenant of quiet enjoyment," indicating that tenants have a right to the peaceful, quiet use of their rented unit. If excessive noise levels violate this right, it can lead to potential lawsuits.
Due process rights for tenants
The law provides tenants with due process rights, meaning landlords cannot arbitrarily evict for noise without first providing:
- Written notice of the violations.
- A chance to respond to allegations and present counter-evidence in a hearing.
- An impartial decision-maker to rule on the dispute.
Landlords must follow proper procedures to prove lease breaches before pursuing eviction. Tenants can contest allegations of excessive noise, halting the eviction process until settled.
Seeking legal counsel
Landlords should exercise diligence by consulting lawyers before attempting to evict tenants for noise or other lease violations.
Resolve an apartment noise complaint with ease
With proactive, collaborative strategies between both parties, noise issues do not need to ruin the apartment living experience or evolve into major landlord-tenant conflicts. Property managers should investigate complaints promptly, enforce reasonable noise policies equitably, and document every step of the resolution process diligently.
Tenants can speak to noisy neighbors first, proposing compromises that allow normal living sounds at reasonable hours and turning to the landlord as a mediator if needed.
A collaborative approach recognizing the rights of all parties concerned, following lease terms and local laws, will lead to the best outcome. With mutual understanding and neighborly behavior, apartments can stay peaceful for all residents.
Noise complaints in apartments FAQs
What is the noise etiquette for apartments?
The noise etiquette for apartments is to keep volume levels low, especially overnight, when most noise ordinances take effect. Avoid excessive noise from music, parties, pets, or other sources.
What are considered reasonable noise levels in an apartment?
Most noise ordinances prohibit excessive noise between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. on weekends. During the day, residents have the right to enjoy quiet in their units. Excessive noise that is audible through walls might violate community rules or local laws. Check your lease and local ordinances for specifics.
How fast should property managers handle noise complaints?
Property managers should handle noise complaints promptly, ideally within a few days of the initial report. Prioritize and address persistent complaints through resident warnings or other means.