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How to Handle Noise Complaints

in Managing Tenant Complaints

One of the most common problems a landlord may face is noise complaints. It might seem small in the broad scope of your job, but noise complaints can be a make or break situation for your tenants, so it’s important to tackle them as soon as possible. Because even well-meaning tenants who pay on time can cause a neighborly disturbance.  No one is safe from this potential issue.

Remember: as a successful landlord, you should respond to and handle noise complaints in as timely a fashion as possible.

Unfortunately, noise complaints can become a drawn-out problem that affects your tenants and neighbors to your property as you work to determine if the claim is legitimate or not and who shoulders the blame. You must be on guard against excessive noise and ready to handle the situation equitably at any time. After all, your tenants and the surrounding neighbors are reasonable in expecting to enjoy peace and quiet—especially at certain times of the day.

To help guide you through the potentially knotty process of dealing with noise complaints, here are some appropriate steps to take when facing a noise complaint on your rental property.

Determining Validity

 
First, you’re going to want to do some in-person research. Is the complaint valid? Or is it possibly based on over-sensitivity or unreasonable expectations of quietness? This is sensitive territory; so, you’ll want to tread lightly.

We have to recognize that noise is everywhere in daily life. Busses, dogs, kids, and all sorts of other sources of noise move by our windows and outside our doors all the time and should be considered normal, everyday, and expected noise that comes with living in a community. But there comes a point where sound levels become excessive, and it’s up to you to figure it out. The catch is that this “point” is more of a grey area, a sliding scale influenced by many factors, including your tenants’ perception, the property’s location, and the building itself.

In many cases the disturbance can be pretty clear-cut. For example, if one of your tenants decides to practice on his drum kit at 2 am, it’s pretty easy to determine that this falls under “excessive” noise and must be dealt with. The same goes for tenants throwing wild parties well into the night, especially when their neighbors have children sleeping or must work in the morning.

Sometimes a noise complaint falls on the opposite end of the spectrum. What if an upstairs tenant is merely walking around their home and the sound bothers the tenants below them? This is obviously reasonable everyday sound that cannot be avoided and the noisemaker may not even be aware of the issue.

Finally, what if a noise complaint comes from a neighbor, regarding your tenant? It could be loud parties, dogs barking at all hours, or any number of other noisy activities that spill over into the surrounding homes. The aggrieved party is not your tenant, but you are at least partially responsible for sorting out the problem.

The great thing is that there are solutions for all of these problems, as well as ways to work out everything in between. Deciding how to deal with the problem will require that you take the time to understand the situation from the point of view of all parties involved.

Evaluating and Responding to a Noise Complaint

 
As with any urgent problem tenants or neighbors may bring before you, it’s important to quickly respond to a noise complaint. The faster you respond the more likely you are to see a positive end result for everyone. Crucially, you should always listen to the aggrieved party and show empathy and understanding before determining the how, the why, and the solution.

Let the aggrieved party know their options with regard to the complaint and be sure to stay in touch until the issue has been resolved. If the issue needs to be escalated to law enforcement, you’ll want to follow-up with them afterward to make sure that the problem was fully addressed and that the solution is working out.

There are a handful of factors to consider when dealing with noise complaints:

  • How many people are complaining?

If multiple tenants or neighbors are accusing one of excessive noise, then you’ve potentially got enough evidence to lend credence to the complaints; if there’s just one complaint, then you’ll want to investigate further. This brings us to the next point.

  • Can you hear the noise yourself?

Personally experiencing the noise yourself is the best way to get an objective feel for the situation. With this information, you’re best able to choose how to address the problem, whether that means dealing with it yourself or escalating to law enforcement.

  • How frequent are the noise complaints?

Are there multiple complaints? Are they filed on rare occasion or frequently, such as multiple nights in a week? If this is the case, your job is to seek actionable consequences for the noise maker in order to solve the problem.

  • Has the noise been officially documented?

If the problem escalates further, you’ll want official evidence of the claims of excessive noise. This will give you proper justification for any actions taken in response.

  • Is the disturbance merely a normal everyday activity, such as talking, walking, or cooking?

 

Finally, you’ll need to delineate between reasonable and unreasonable noise. If, for example, your downstairs tenant wants their upstairs neighbor to stop with everyday activities such as walking and talking in their home, another solution may be necessary to keep the peace. If a neighbor is complaining about your tenants having an occasional dinner party that ends at a reasonable time, such as 11 pm, you’re in a similar situation, where negotiation of expectations will be important.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll be better equipped to determine if the noise complaint is a legitimate issue that requires you to provide a solution, or if it’s more a matter of establishing standards for noise between occupants of your property. If it is the former, these answers will help you figure out any consequences the tenants will face for further noise violations.

If The Noise Complaint Is Not Valid

 
If your personal research has shown that a noise complaint doesn’t warrant any specific action, you can still help to make peace between tenants and neighbors, and keep them as happy residents at your property. Instead of dropping the issue, you’ll want to engage with both parties.

Here’s an example: one tenant complains that a neighbor is always throwing loud parties and disrupting their sleep—but you find that the other tenant simply had one party that indeed irritated the neighbor, but was not an ongoing occurrence. Exaggeration happens when emotions run high, so it’s understandable. In this case, you’ll want to reiterate standards for noise and neighborly behavior while listening empathetically to both parties. Letting the aggrieved tenant know that you’ve done your due diligence and explaining the judgment about the situation will go a long way toward maintaining a good tenant-landlord relationship.

If The Noise Complaint Is Valid

 
If your findings show the noise complaint to be legitimate, then you’ll want to deal with the issue head on, as soon as possible. The worst thing you can do is to ignore the problem, which could leave you vulnerable to claims of negligence and even litigation if the situation escalates. So be proactive.

First, explain the issue completely to every involved party. Suggest any available solution for keeping the noise to acceptable levels to the noisy tenant or neighbor, and be sure to document the solution so both parties can be made aware. If you have existing documentation on any required quiet hours, you’ll find it easier to refer to them during the process; existing rules are easier to enforce than new ones.

If the noise is simply the result of tenant behavior, you can request some noise control measures, such as asking the noisy party to use caution, avoid slamming doors, etc. If they’ve actually been throwing loud parties, be sure to refer to those rules and lease terms on quiet time and consideration and ask that the behavior changes for the benefit of everyone.

If you do not have established quiet hours, this might be the time to establish them. Quiet hours give your tenants a structured guide for when they should be extra mindful and considerate of their neighbors. When you have established quiet hours, you’ll want to provide additional clarity, such as noting what would be considered excessive noise, even during regular hours.

If your local jurisdiction places a limit on noise levels, then you’ve got the law on your side—in addition to any rules you’ve established for tenants. This goes both ways, for both neighbors and tenants complaining. If your rental property is subject to noise law violations and you receive a complaint, be sure to ask the issuing department to come out and measure the decibel levels to determine the validity of the complaint.

If the noise is both a legitimate issue and caused by everyday activity, you’ll want to look into home improvements that can help mitigate the issue.

Floor upgrades are a great way to soften and muffle noises in a multi-family dwelling. Cork hard floors will reduce noise, and carpet will do an exceptional job of absorbing noise and echoes, and softening the impact on downstairs neighbors. If you already have hard flooring, the addition of area rugs can be a major help in dampening sounds. Providing cheap adhesive pads to the feet of chairs and other furniture will also go a long way toward reducing noise from upstairs units.

Windows are a major factor in transmitting noise between individual homes and neighbors. If the windows on your property are older, you may want to replace them with thicker double-pane glass. Not only will this reduce exterior noise for the occupant and any surrounding neighbors, it will enhance the look of the building and improve energy efficiency in both cold and warm seasons. Short of full window replacement, the addition of heavy drapes can provide some noise insulation as well.

Insulation itself is another great idea. If your rental property has thin or poorly insulated walls, sound will travel between units and between homes much more than normal. Adding a proper layer of insulation to interior walls between units and exterior walls will make a massive impact on sound transmission. Plus, like window upgrades, it will be a general improvement to the rental property in terms of comfort and energy efficiency.

Protecting Yourself

 
One final piece of advice: as a landlord, you’ll want to insulate yourself from noise problems because, after all, you cannot control everything that happens at your properties, regardless of safeguards and rules. You can protect yourself by including a noise (or quiet hours) clause in your lease agreement. This way, if your tenant repeatedly violates the noise clause and disturbs other tenants or neighbors, you can act on the lease terms, by evicting the tenant. This might be a “last resort” type measure, but it’s a great way to give real consequences to repeat offenders and ensure that you have recourse in the event of a problem tenant. If the repeat offender is a neighbor rather than your tenant, this is where you escalate the situation to law enforcement.

Life in multi-family buildings will always mean a bit more shared noise than in a single-family dwelling, and even single-family homes in close proximity to other homes will always experience more noise than those located in a more rural setting, but it does not have to be a nuisance for residents. Using a combination of polite encouragement of your tenants to be considerate to their neighbors—mostly inexpensive home improvements where necessary—and official signage noting quiet hours and expectations, you’ll be able to foster a peaceful living situation that benefits all of your tenants and their neighbors that makes your job as landlord that much easier.

 

Disclosure: This Knowledge Base article is accurate as of the last update. Laws and policies are subject to change. If you have any questions, please call the office. Click here for contact information.