How should I approach complaining about noise from a new bar?
May 17, 2013 7:17 PM   Subscribe

My new neighbor is a piano bar that plays live music during the weekends. How should I go about complaining about the noise from their live shows?

To be a bit more specific, the bar itself moved in a few months ago across the street and is described as a "classy" piano bar. During the week there are no live shows, or if there are, I can't hear them. However during the weekends the live bands (typically jazz) are blasted over a PA system that broadcasts the music into the street and DIRECTLY into my bedroom and office. So now my house is full of obnoxious bass during weekend evenings which is not indistinguishable from drum and bass or other thumping club music (and I, like most people, am completely neurotic when it comes to bass). When I go outside, however, the music is actually quite enjoyable and not at all offensive. So the culprit itself appears to be the fact that they feel the need to broadcast it over a PA system despite the fact that the bar itself is tiny and surrounded by houses on all sides.

I did check my local noise ordinance laws and businesses are not exempt from keeping noise and bass to a minimum. If it is still audible outside of a 50 feet radius then it is considered intrusive according to the law. I also spoke with the local police department and they stated they could send a police officer over to tell them to tone it down, but that seems like extreme overkill at this moment. I just want the bass to stop!

What should I do? Do you think a friendly letter would be enough to dissuade them from using the PA system? Should I get the police or city involved by just complaining my little heart out? As it is, it is almost impossible to enjoy my office on weekend evenings with all this bass invading it.
posted by Young Kullervo to Law & Government (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If this were an individual neighbor, I would totally go over and ask them to help solve the problem, but this is a business. They are not using music for pleasure, it is part of their business tactic, which I think absolves you of trying to do the friendly cool and welcoming neighbor thing.

In your situation, I think calling the ordinance officer or the non emergency number for the police is totally the right call. This right here is why we have ordinances and police.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 7:25 PM on May 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

I would talk to the management of the bar first- go in on a weekday when things are quiet (and not screaming in your PJs on a weekend evening- trust me, been there, done that) and let them know you're finding the noise a problem. If it's still not fixed after a visit, then I might write a stern letter. If it's still not fixed after that, then I would call the police/local authorities each and every time it was bothering me until it was fixed.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:26 PM on May 17, 2013

They probably make most of their money on the weekends so I would guess that a friendly letter is not going to accomplish anything. You can try but I think you're going to end up calling the authorities, probably repeatedly.
posted by rdr at 7:31 PM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with Nickel Pickle. I think it is appropriate to get the local authorities involved from the start. It is possible, but unlikely, that they will change their business model for a private neighbor.

As a lawyer who has written many a stern letter on law firm letterhead, I can tell you that I can count on one hand the number of stern letters have accomplished anything.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:33 PM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

surrounded by houses on all sides.

The residential/commercial divide is the point where neighborhood cohesiveness is the most effective. I'd talk with the residents of the other houses and present a united front in dealings with the business and with the zoning/ordinance staff.
posted by headnsouth at 7:35 PM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Put on a classy outfit. Check the hours of the piano bar and pop over either before it is open for the night, or during a slow period - the earlier, the better. Ask to speak with a manager and be very kind about the situation and the problem it is causing for you.

The management has an incentive to take your request seriously, as having the noise people called on your business can be really awful as far as compliance checks are concerned; if the management is good, they'll want to avoid the compliance costs and extra oversight that comes with a formal complaint.

If the problem doesn't abate, or if the management gives you unfriendly pushback, then get the authorities involved. FWIW, I managed a concert venue right next to a residential neighborhood for several years, and what I've described above would definitely have led to the quickest resolution.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 7:36 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

How long have you lived there? Was the space always a nightclub?
posted by rhizome at 7:46 PM on May 17, 2013

Response by poster: Not trying to thread sit (but I am):

I have been living in this house since 2011. The building was a clothing boutique before the bar moved in. There are several other bars in the area, but none play live music, to my knowledge (if they do, it is well contained).
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:52 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If nothing else, take comfort in how quickly new bars and restaurants tend to fail. (I think the figure is half within a year?)

I think banding together with neighbors is a good plan; if they know that the neighborhood wants them to put a lid on it, I bet they'd bend over backwards to keep the police and any licensing/zoning boards out of it. Even better-- do you have a neighborhood association?
posted by supercres at 8:01 PM on May 17, 2013

Do call the police. Do not talk to the manager yourself. You want to be as anonymous as possible. The last thing that you need is a group of drunk people , who know where you live, angry at you for ruining their good time.
posted by myselfasme at 8:05 PM on May 17, 2013 [17 favorites]

Best answer: The police is only a short term fix.

Call your city services department and ask about noise complaints for a commercial establishment. Most likely if you escalate the situation enough, the city will take official readings in your home during the offensive time span. They will generate a repo and cite the business.

This is not an uncommon problem! The business can mitigate the bass and other noise with a variety of commercial archetectural products designed for sound-proofing, and/or by altering the levels on the speakers.

It sucks you will have to complain a lot, but the business wants to stay in business, and they WILL comply with your city's recommendations.

PS - I guarantee you are not the only neighbor having a tough time. Most folks just don't know how to get the wheels of government moving!
posted by jbenben at 8:13 PM on May 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

Talking to a noise offender is useful if and only if the offender genuinely doesn't realize that people are being put out by the noise. This place knows it and is banking on the semiresidential neighborhood they moved into being full of people who don't want to be "that guy."

Be. That. Guy. Call the cops and ask them who you should be calling for this sort of thing, and then call that office.
posted by Etrigan at 8:15 PM on May 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

Think about having a word with your neighbors who might also be suffering from this. Getting a sense that no, it's not just you (it never is), and yes, it bothers everybody, strengthens the neighborhood's capital as a whole and will bolster your confidence in making an argument. Also, it has you all getting organized in advance in case the first forays of "could they turn it down" don't go well.

When the K of C across our street has really loud events late at night, it bothers us. But I know, from talking to them, that it bothers our octogenarian neighbors even more. This bolsters my willingness to deal with it, because I know it's an issue that affects more people than just me, and that it is the kind thing to do to try to deal with it.
posted by Miko at 8:27 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I run a local residents association in my neighborhood (in Toronto) that is mostly concerned with noise from bars. We have posted some guidelines for dealing with these sorts of problems- some of them are very specific to the Toronto, some are more general.

I've dealt with a dozen or so of these sorts of situations over the past few years. I also teach courses in negotiation managing conflict. Here are some ideas based on my experience:

- It is very good to enlist support from other neighbors. This gives your concern a lot more legitimacy (otherwise you can be written off as just one cranky person).

- You have to live near this bar. That means you probably want to do what you can to preserve a good relationship with them. Don't lose track of this goal. (And please recall: A relationship where you are openly super-hostile to each other is not a good relationship. But a relationship where they continue to play loud music, and you smile while quietly seething every time you see them, is not a good relationship either).

- Whether or not it makes sense to approach the bar probably depends in part on a lot of variables, including what the bar owners are like, what the regulations and enforcement are like where you live, etc. I would err on the side of talking to them. I might be helpful, though, to have a good sense, before you talk to them, of stuff like what the enforcement would be if they decide to keep making noise. I think an ideal approach to take is to start by saying "You seem like nice folks, and you probably don't even realize it, but your music is disturbing to neightbours" That in itself might persude them. The next step might be to point out that the local law is very clear that this is not cool (something they may not know). The next step might be to say you'll start sending the cops if there are problems. You can sort of do this step by step.

- If you've made the above clear to them, and the police are willing to visit, don't hesitate to call the cops when there are problems. If you are careful about this, it can be possible to do this while still keeping a basically cordial relationship. A big part of it is to constantly emphasize that you want to get along well with them, to say whatever you can say about them that's positive (that you appreciate the efforts that they have made, that you like their business, whatever), but that you also feel you can't just ignore it if they break the law in ways that interfere with your enjoyment of your home.

- My own experience, in my own area, is that trying to fix these problems sometimes works, and sometimes doesn't (because in my own area, the enforcement of the noise ordinance is very very bad). When it does work, it sometimes can take a while. It might be worth trying to get a sense of how successful people typically are with this sort of problem where you live. It might also be worth seeing whether there are people or groups outside of the police in your area who can help with these problems. (In Toronto, we have more luck getting help from our local city councillors than from the police)

Good luck!
posted by ManInSuit at 9:10 PM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know what they have where you are, but you're going to want to go to either/all your city councilperson, planning and/or zoning departments. There's a permit somewhere, I'm sure, and that's a pretty drastic change in the tenor of the neighborhood.
posted by rhizome at 10:19 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have never had a noise complaint situation where the situation was improved by the noisy people knowing who I was. Usually it made things much, much worse.

I'd call and find out about permits, but I would do my best to remain anonymous as long as possible.
posted by winna at 2:24 AM on May 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another vote here for calling the police non-emergency number, and letting them handle it. (And check on that PA system: are they even allowed to be pumping the noise out into the neighborhood like that in the first place?)
posted by easily confused at 2:26 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your choices are:

A friendly word.
A formal written complaint to the business.
A complaint to the police.
Moving home.

I would do them all in that order.
posted by BenPens at 5:17 AM on May 18, 2013

Where bylaws are concerned, the offender never needs to know who is being offended. In fact, this is generally the worst thing. Person A is being a dick. They need to stop being a dick. They don't need to know who has said they are being a dick. Nothing good comes from that. Ever. That is why there the bylaw folks are very good at managing these situations. These people are paid to do this. Paid to deal with societal complaints by being a mediator between the dick, and the dicked.

Call your specific bylaw line if you have one, or the police non-emergency number if you don't. Yes, you wish to remain anonymous.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:21 AM on May 18, 2013

Best answer: In my city, the specific city department that deals with this type of issue is code compliance, which is part of the larger building and safety department.

Even though the disturbance is happening outside of regular business hours, call them first thing on Monday morning and see what they have to say before you call the police. Also, I'd brush up on the local civic code that covers all the angles; I've found that nothing gets results from the city better than knowing exactly what you're talking about.* I say this as someone who has the code compliance phone number programmed into my phone.

*You don't have to memorize anything or try to sound like a lawyer but saying, "I'm aware that noise levels need to be below X on weekends. Does this also apply to bars and restaurants in residential areas?" is more helpful than simply calling to complain.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:43 AM on May 18, 2013

For what it's worth, I regret every single time an annoying neighbor of any kind has known who I was, if I was bothered by what they were doing.

Yes, I've been annoyed when someone anonymously complained against me(and it was bullshit, several of the times) but I'd take doing it anonymously over the fallout of entering combat with a petty donghead.

If they know who you are, you have to take in to account the possibility of them starting to lodge complaints against you. Complaints for normal stuff everyone in the neighborhood does. Like say, your car sticking a bit too far out of the driveway, or BBQing too close to your/their structure, or a million other little things you probably don't consider that are suddenly a huge nuisance to them/a public nuisance. And that isn't even getting started on erroneous complaints for things you aren't even doing.

This can be doubly bad if you're renting instead of owning, and the complaints start trickling in to your landlord. All they'll have heard is "your annoying the neighbors!". Maybe now you're the loud one, and they're pretending to be someone in one of the other houses. I've had a sack of crap neighbor completely turn a landlord against me this way.

I would skip straight to the non emergency line especially with it being a business, but also in general unless I was friends with the neighbor at this point. The dick does not need to know who's being dicked, as was said above. If you have the option of the cops, you should be jumping for joy.
posted by emptythought at 12:45 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

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