Help with noisy neighbor's loud music.
May 25, 2012 3:59 PM   Subscribe

Noisy Neighbors: Am I just a cranky old lady or are my neighbors inconsiderate assholes?

I live in the suburbs, houses are somewhat far apart, each house on about a half acre, with trees and shrubs. Neighbor behind and north of me (kitty corner, I guess) recently upgraded their outdoor sound system, and now play it loud enough I can hear it inside my house. My piece and quiet is gone, and my blood pressure is going through the roof.

What I don't know is if I'm being unreasonable. I like it quiet, so even before they upgraded things I hated Saturday afternoons when they monopolized the outdoors with their music. Now though, its invading my living space. I don't know that its necessarily louder, but the base seems to travel right through the house, even though they're not very close to me.

City does have a noise ordinance, which states: Generally, no person shall make, or cause to be made, any loud, disturbing, or unnecessary sound or noise such as may tend to annoy or disturb a person of ordinary sensibilities in or about any public, street, alley, or park pr any private residence. But am I a person of ordinary sensibilities, or am I being unreasonable? After all, its after 5 on a friday. They did have the music blasting late until the wee morning hours last weekend, but its been only during afternoon, evening hours since then.

I'm kind of upset and freaking out because I could see how this could easily escalate into a nasty neighbor dispute. But I'm also feeling like my solitude has been destroyed. I know my home is pretty well sound proof, my dogs, which tend to be loud and lose their shit when we get home from work can't be heard from much more than partway down the driveway, and one of my direct neighbors has a son that used to have a band that would practice in their house and we never heard them indoors. Plus, I run fans for white noise generation inside the house, but that might be because I'm sound sensitive, and therefore being unreasonable.
posted by [insert clever name here] to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you talk to some of your other neighbors to see if it's bothering them, too?
posted by two lights above the sea at 4:03 PM on May 25, 2012

If you can hear it inside your house with the windows closed, they're probably being inconsiderate assholes.

Couple of options off the top of my head:

1) Call the city and find out if there's a hard decibel limit on the books. Buy/rent a meter and measure both outside and inside your house next time you can hear it.

2) Next time this is going on, call your non-emergency number and find out if you can get an officer to come out to your house and let them give you an opinion on whether it's too loud or not, and then go from there.
posted by curious nu at 4:09 PM on May 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

To be frank? Not really. Everyone pretty much keeps to themselves around here. I do talk to one neighbor, the one with the son in the band, so I will probably ask her about it, but for the most part, everyone kind of keeps to themselves *quietly*.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:10 PM on May 25, 2012

No you're not cranky, that's completely obnoxious. If negotiating fails, I would recommend taking up the bagpipes or you can just let the highschool drum corps practice in your back yard.
posted by doctor_negative at 4:11 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why not just talk to them, being the neighbor you'd want to have? "I'm pretty sensitive to sound, and you guys have a particularly good sound system. Sometimes it stresses me out a little, though obviously you should enjoy your stereo when you're having a party or it's not late. So, on those rare times when I really do need you to turn it down, how should we communicate about that? And do you have any nut allergies that might affect the brownies I'm gonna make?"

See? Direct and easy. Change your question to "How do I develop a good enough relationship with my neighbor so that something as trivial as a loud stereo is an easy conversation?"
posted by anildash at 4:27 PM on May 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

"Outdoor sound system" is not something I associate with a reasonable level of noise in a suburban area. If you couldn't hear a bunch of teenagers playing in a garage band, but can hear this, then the sound system is far too loud.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:29 PM on May 25, 2012 [32 favorites]

Start calling the cops. Outdoor sound systems are pretty much the definition of disturbing the peace, and while I'm sure we can agree that listening to music while in the backyard is not beyond the pale, blasting it is tremendously inconsiderate..
posted by rhizome at 4:33 PM on May 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

I think you need to start by making courteous contact with them. Bass really does travel and they may not be aware of how loud it is from neighboring houses. Outdoor speakers can be great fun and they're probably enjoying the new upgrade (and using them more frequently than might be the norm once the novelty wears off) but owning something like that in a residential neighborhood carries with it the responsibility to be a good neighbor and mitigate the irritation caused to those around you. They might be totally reasonable people who are just getting used to this new toy and the new potentials for conflict it creates, and they might really appreciate having somebody come to their door and politely but directly tell them that it's causing problems (verus, for instance, stewing silently about it for weeks and then calling the police on them while they're entertaining friends.)

So I would say approach them and introduce yourself as their back neighbor from [your address]. Mention that you've noticed a lot of loud music emanating from their yard lately and that while you're not trying to tell them they can never listen to music on their own property, it seems to have gotten a lot louder lately and the bass is especially troublesome. Is there a subwoofer right against the back fence that they could move (even a few inches) or could they just turn it down as a favor to you, their friendly quiet-loving neighbor who at this point is still willing to be flexible and not call the cops every time they turn their brand new system on? (This last part will be implied, no need to spell it out.)

Give them a chance to act like responsible people before treating them like the obnoxious oafs they may well be. Even if they're not thrilled to hear from you, they might understand that this is an overture toward a negotiated truce that could end with them having some limited use of their fun new backyard sound system, versus having their touchy neighbor calling the police with noise complaints all the time.
posted by contraption at 4:34 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you can hear it inside your house with the windows closed, they're probably being inconsiderate assholes.

Really? I would say if you can hear it outside your house then they are inconsiderate assholes. Doesn't American tort law have anything about the right to quiet enjoyment of your property? Google suggests to me that it does.

You're not being unreasonable, why the hell should you have to put up with wankers who think their rights exceed those of everyone else around them? This is potentially a public nuisance (in legal terms) and you may well be able to get it shut down. you might try negotiation first, but it shut off is what you want you may well have a right to go for that. IAMVERYMUCHNAL.
posted by biffa at 4:39 PM on May 25, 2012

Your first step is to go talk to them nicely. You know, between "cranky lady" and "inconsiderate asshole" lies the land of "Oh, wow, I had no idea the sound carried that far. Sorry about that!"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:44 PM on May 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

Quiet enjoyment doesn't have anything to do with noise levels. It means the ability to use your property without interference.

Does your city have a 311 line or some sort of non-emergency line? They may be able to provide some guidance. But on the surface, outdoor sound system sounds...pretty bad.
posted by punchtothehead at 4:46 PM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

We've had trouble with a neighbor over a similar problem (except we could hear his INDOOR sound system in our house!!). I think it is totally unreasonable to play music at a volume that can be heard inside another person's walls (thin-walled apartments are perhaps an exception since it can be so hard to avoid). Yards are more questionable, since if your yards are adjacent, obviously even quiet noise in one yard isn't going to be stopped by the air in between the yards, but I do think it's reasonable to talk about quiet hours, not playing music for hours on end, etc. And definitely if it goes from making your yard loud to making your inside loud, that's not ok.

In our case, we negotiated an agreement about maximum volume for anytime, quiet hours, and also that music going on for 4+ hours was not okay if it could be heard at all. (We don't mind occasional/brief noise, but having it go on all day is not okay.) We were able to do this without involving the police, but if they're not willing to cooperate, I think you're well within your rights!
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:46 PM on May 25, 2012

Yeah, what inspector gadget says. "Outdoor" being the operable word here.

Honestly? I wouldn't bring it up to any of the neighbors. I would send an anonymous and polite note through the mail. Then, whenever it is too loud, I'd call the police and let them handle it.

They sound inconsiderate and strange, like they have no idea they have neighbors.

Notify them in writing and then start calling the police.

I guess if the police turn up and don't ask them to turn it down, then there is your answer about how reasonable or unreasonable you are being. I bet they'll be asked To turn it down.
posted by jbenben at 4:54 PM on May 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Half-acre lots are not nearly large enough to make outdoor sound systems okay. You are not being oversensitive. Part of the problem may be that you haven't said anything about noise yet, which may have entrenched for them the impression that it's just fine. I think you're going to have to firmly and insistently call them on it several times in a row before they accept the change.
posted by jon1270 at 4:56 PM on May 25, 2012

Here's a perspective from the noisy neighbor's side, if it helps:

I have a very close friend whose house I visit for cook-outs and the like about once a week. She and her husband have an outdoor sound system and they BLARE IT. I've even mentioned something to them once or twice along the lines of, "Wow, the music seems really loud...I can't hear anything you're saying. Could we turn it down a notch?" This is typically on a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon/evening, so not within the usual hours when noise ordinances are in full effect. On one occasion, a neighbor came over to ask them to please turn the music down. They were apologetic and immediately did so, and weren't nasty or rude at all. There was no shit-talking or badmouthing of the neighbor after she left. It just wasn't a big deal in the slightest.

I understand YMMV, but I just want to confirm that this doesn't have to be an unpleasant confrontation. It's possible and perhaps even likely that your neighbors will respond in the same way my friends did - kindly, reasonably, and (perhaps most important) immediately.
posted by pecanpies at 5:02 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you do talk to them don't characterize yourself as "quiet". That makes you seem unreasonable and you're not. That sounds insanely annoying.
posted by fshgrl at 5:02 PM on May 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

Also: I wanted to also point out that it is possible they don't realize just how loud it is. Yes, I realize that sounds silly - how could someone be that clueless? When I've been with friends and the music's gotten loud, though, sometimes it's because the volume has just seemed to slowly escalate without anyone realizing how loud it's really gotten. "Oooh - turn this song up!" And then fifteen minutes later, after everyone's acclimated to the new volume: "Oh I love this song! Turn it up!" Etc.
posted by pecanpies at 5:04 PM on May 25, 2012

If you do talk to them, don't apologize and don't sugar coat it. "Hey, you guys may not realize it, but that's way too loud. We can hear it even inside with the windows closed, and that's really not ok. Thanks for turning it down!"

Sometimes I turn my music up when I'm working in the kitchen, often on a summer evening. I hope it isn't bothering anyone; and if anyone ever came over to ask me to turn it down I would do it immediately and thank them for bringing it to my attention.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:08 PM on May 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also consider their speaker placement: if the speakers are pointed straight at your house, or against a hard wall that bounces the sound directly to you, perhaps they could turn those speakers somewhat --- that alone might make a measurable difference in what you hear.
posted by easily confused at 5:15 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think your first step should be to talk to the police, and get confirmation about whether or not they're crossing the line. I think they are.

Assuming they are, and that the police will issue them tickets, tell the police that you want a chance to handle it on your own, and attempt to have the friendly conversation with them, without bringing up the fact that you've spoken to the police unless they begin to balk.

This is the approach I used with my upstairs neighbors, who threw a loud move-in party. I followed through, and the noise they've been making has dropped off precipitously since then.

The thing is, someone who has purchased an outdoor sound system and uses it often is not just showing you that they're not currently considering your feelings, they're showing you that they're not likely to consider your feelings as being equally valid to theirs, because it's highly unlikely that you'll be the first person to bring the issue of potentially pissing off neighbors to their consideration. They've just spent a considerable amount of money and that will give them much potential to rationalize.

So you don't want to confront them merely hoping it will work out for the best if you have to take a next step, you want to know how things are going to work out BEFORE the confrontation, because if it turns out the police are not going to have your side, the failed confrontation diminishes you in the eyes of your annoying neighbors and makes it difficult to accomplish your goal. It's better to get a handle on how to do things, then feel out other options if it turns out they can't be ticketed, or your police department isn't sympathetic.

The position I would take, and the position I did take with my noisy neighbors, is, "The police WILL give you a ticket. I would really like for that NOT to happen, so I'm giving you a chance to fix this without involving them." This was AFTER the "nice guy" route failed, when I told them they were making a lot of noise and one of them (predictably) protested that it was "still early" ... after 11 pm.

The effect of this is to make them take you a shitload more seriously the next time you approach them with a problem and offering them a chance to resolve it.
posted by alphanerd at 5:16 PM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I had a neighbor noise problem.

I'd first start but popping over and saying, "Hey Jean and John. I'm sure you're not aware of this, but I can hear your music pretty loudly over inside of my house. Could you guys keep it at a lower volume?"

And that might just resolve the problem.

If it doesn't, ask a 2nd time.

If it still doesn't, start calling the police non-emergency number every time it is too loud.
posted by k8t at 5:35 PM on May 25, 2012

Does your city have a noise team? mine does, and serious noise trouble is a thing of the past, touch wood.

But if someone has too many noise complaints against them they get their sound equipment taken away, which is why it's only fair to ask them first. Otherwise I'd be wary they'd know it was you.

BTW the houses here are 20 yards apart at the furthest point, and I still have an enforceable right not to be thumped by adjoining bass all day long while I'm inside my house with the doors closed. If your neighbours are half an acre away, wow. So totally not unreasonable of you.
posted by tel3path at 5:52 PM on May 25, 2012

Yeah, your neighbours are totally out of line. If you don't feel comfortable confronting them directly, try something Miss Manners once suggested. Write a generic "Dear Neighbours" letter, phrased in a way that suggests you're not sure where the noise is coming from and are sending it to everyone in the neighbourhood. But send only one copy, to them.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 6:00 PM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's no need to get involved with these people. I'd call the police immediately and anonymously, every time it happened. This is the kind of thing that your tax money pays the police to do, particularly in quiet suburban settings like the one you describe.

There's no upside for you in approaching these neighbors. If they are wonderful people, then you'd just feel obligated to be even more patient with their noise in the future. If they are average people, you've just had an awkward, unnecessary encounter. If they are below-average people, now you have a neighborhood feud on your hands, or worse. I'm amazed at what an old lady I sound like writing this, but loud music correlates with alcohol consumption and generally lowered inhibitions. If one of them is rude to you, threatens, or sexually harasses you, it's your word against theirs that it ever happened.
posted by gentian at 7:16 PM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is the type of thing which deserves a call to the police non emergency number. They will be able to tell you if you are being reasonable or not, and they should come by to check it out themselves.

If you can hear it inside your house with the windows closed, than it is probably too loud.

It isn't clear to me if this is just for playing back music, or if this is for a band playing outside. If this is for a band, than it is almost certainly too loud. The volume needed for any sort of rock band to play together is certainly too loud to be outside.

The good neighbor thing to do would be to go talk to them, just calmly explain that they have their music up too loud, and it is disturbing you on your property. Be reasonable with them, and let them know that you certainly understand that there are times (such as parties for graduation, or birthdays, or things like that) when they will be playing music, but it is just too loud for a regular thing. If they make it clear they are unwilling to change things, than I would let them know that you will be calling the police to report noise violations when they have their music too loud.

This is the type of thing that will only get worse if you don't do something. If they are reasonable people, than you guys can come to some sort of agreement. If not, than you need to involve the police as soon as you can, or this will never change. The longer you wait, the harder this is going to be to change.
posted by markblasco at 7:48 PM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Did you buy a house behind a wedding venue? No? Then this is way out of line. A half-acre? My parents live on 3/8ths of an acre and to me, that's a seriously luxurious amount of space. If you can't go about your daily life without being heard 100 yards away, you're a jerk.

Don't bother talking to them; just call the police. I'd say talking to them runs a greater-than-average risk that they'll just escalate.
posted by palliser at 8:24 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it's like my neighbours, it's not volume - it's bass.

"You guys have awesome speakers - I can feel the bass all the way over at my place! No, the volume's fine, seriously. If you could just tweak the bass down, that'd be great."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:29 PM on May 25, 2012

Hey OP! I am 100% for taking whatever suggestion does not "out" you as the complaining neighbor!

My thought is everyone surrounding this loud neighbor is unhappy, but they are just like you, super unhappy, but minus a MetaFilter account where they can ask for advice.

Don't single yourselves out by approaching them personally.

Remain anonymous as you go, There have been great suggestions to keep your identity under wraps as you pursue this issue - go that route!
posted by jbenben at 12:39 AM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree with jbenben about staying anonymous, and I'm the kind of neighbor who knows everyone and brings muffins to the disabled lady next door and lets my kids have reciprocal admissions with the neighbor kids to each other's yards and houses pretty much at all times without notice. I just think anyone who would make giant noise like that on the weekend in a quiet neighborhood of half-acre lots is not concerned about the neighbors themselves.
posted by palliser at 6:39 AM on May 26, 2012

> "You guys have awesome speakers - I can feel the bass all the way over at my place! No, the volume's fine, seriously. If you could just tweak the bass down, that'd be great."

You don't know the volume's fine, and frankly I seriously doubt it is. The poster should not have to analyze the components of the sound to decide what they have the right to complain about. They want not to have to hear it inside their house, and that's a perfectly reasonable thing to want. And that goes double for this:

> "I'm pretty sensitive to sound, and you guys have a particularly good sound system. Sometimes it stresses me out a little, though obviously you should enjoy your stereo when you're having a party or it's not late. So, on those rare times when I really do need you to turn it down, how should we communicate about that?"

There's no need to mention being "pretty sensitive to sound"—having functioning ears isn't being "pretty sensitive to sound"—and it's not "rare times when I really do need you to turn it down": it should be rare times when it's audible to neighbors at all. Parties are one thing (unless they party several times a week); just blasting it because they want to enjoy their sound system is unacceptable.

I agree with those who suggest keeping it anonymous; sure, it's possible that they're wonderful people who just didn't realize how loud it was and will stop as soon as you ask, but I'm not sure the odds are good enough to risk a bet on it. If you complain in person, they shrug you off, and then the cops start coming, they'll assume you called the cops, and they may not react well.
posted by languagehat at 8:26 AM on May 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

Man, I can't believe you would call the cops on someone before asking them to turn it down. Do you really think you won't be on a very short list of suspects based on the neighborhood layout?

The amount of assumption in this thread that these people are assholes and not worthy of a friendly attempt at mediation is pretty unbelievable.

Perfectly nice and lovable people unwittingly do annoying things all the time. Their litmus test for speaker volume acceptability may very well be whether any of the neighbors say something about it. By not talking to them about it you may have accidentally reassured them that the volume is totally fine.

In most of the places I have lived, everyone occasionally puts up with someone's noise on a party day or something with the knowledge that they can have a pass to make their own noise sometimes. If their usual reasoning on this matter doesn't apply to someone like you, you'll probably have to find a way to tell them.

Personally, you'll pry music in the backyard out of my cold, dead hands. It is summer and I have things to grill. But even someone so cavalier with public noise as myself would respond kindly to a request to turn my music down, and might even offer you a beer.

Just talk to them. Don't perpetuate this aura of suspicion and anger that you've created (and that is only experienced by you).
posted by TheRedArmy at 12:02 PM on May 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Chiming back in to say I, too, am completely baffled at the idea of calling the police over a neighbor playing music in the daytime. When you live in a neighborhood with small lots, some noise is expected and unavoidable. It's a beautiful Saturday afternoon here, and my neighbor has been power washing his house & garage for the last hour. The machine is incredibly noisy - it's like a loud generator - and I can hear it where I'm sitting now at my computer. Sitting outside, where I'd like to be, is out of the question. He's definitely "monopolizing the outdoors" right now.

Yes, I realize this situation is not directly comparable because he's not running his power washer all day every weekend. But someone, somewhere, is inevitably doing loud yard work to the point where I can hear it inside on nearly all weekend days, sometimes starting at 8 in the morning. It's just part of living in a rather dense suburban area.

At least start with a conversation to see if they'll turn it down & play it for a limited time. I really can't imagine the cops doing much if it's a Saturday afternoon.
posted by pecanpies at 12:52 PM on May 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't say I was particularly sensitive to noise, or just pick one part of their broadcast to adjust. I would simply go over and say, "Hi! I'm a neighbour*. Your music is loud. Can you turn it down?"

If they turn it down and keep it that way, yay! If they don't, call the cops.

*notice that you are not telling them precisely which neighbour.
posted by batmonkey at 1:15 PM on May 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Possibly they are hard-of-hearing and either not compensating for this or unaware of it.
posted by lathrop at 3:14 PM on May 26, 2012

Thanks everyone for your input. I decided to stay anonymous, because I really didn't want to start some sort of neighborhood war, as I don't know these people - but, the neighbor next door beat me to it (she's directly behind them) and they've been keeping it down since. Every once in a while, they crank it up - but it seems to be more of a "this is an awesome song, turn it up!" and turn it back down a few minutes later - that, I can live with, and even appreciate.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:01 PM on July 2, 2012

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