Is there legal recourse for this sort of noise disturbance?
December 10, 2013 7:38 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend has been living in his townhouse for about 5 months now, and unfortunately, the townhouse is just on the other wall of this small-ish establishment that makes very loud pallet-dropping noises. It happens sporadically throughout the night and day. So it could be 6 pm, 3 am, 10 am, whatever. We are pretty sure it's whenever they get a new shipment, they start unloading them into the warehouse, and there's this huge, startling clatter of pallets being dropped.

We had talked about this a bit with the neighbors about 2 weeks after he moved in and the sounds were disturbing, and they basically said they had learned to live with it throughout the years, that they'd tried calling the cops but it was ineffectual. They've also talked to the owners of the establishment, who refuse to do anything about it. One had installed double paned glass on his windows and claimed that was good enough for him. We plan to do that also, but I am wondering if there is anyone we could call about this. I guess I don't see why they couldn't set the pallets down gently or put some sort of tarp underneath to quiet the noise. Also, the double panes won't help us when we need to open our windows from time to time for fresh air.

I have stayed over at the house for a few days at a time, and the noise throughout the day is truly distracting. I am sensitive to loud noises, and I kept being startled by it, as there is no way to predict when it's gonna happen. My boyfriend is usually at work well into the evening, so I suppose he is less affected by it, but I plan to move in with him soon, and as a freelancer, I will be home a lot during the day.

Two other things I'd love input on is whether anyone can recommend window people in the San Jose area and also if this is anything we can complain to the previous owners about, since they never mentioned it. I remember reading through pages and pages of material dealing with the house and living conditions, and they'd signed off on everything as satisfactory.

posted by massofintuition to Home & Garden (20 answers total)
If it's a legitimate business and he knowingly purchased a townhouse connected to it, I have a hard time seeing what the recourse would be... What kind of "establishment" are we talking about here?
posted by primethyme at 7:45 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

What's the location? Different places have different laws regarding noise.
posted by germdisco at 7:46 PM on December 10, 2013

First, I sympathize with you. While I do not know if I am sensitive to loud noises, they annoy me to the point where I don't like to have windows open because I will hear barking dogs, car engines, and other typical noises of a residential neighborhood.

"We" can't complain about anything because I don't see from your question that you were a party to the real estate transaction. If your boyfriend is interested in pursuing the noise issue, he would need a local lawyer to tell him his rights. We can't tell you if he has legal recourse because that would be legal advice, which no one here can give you (or him). In general, seller's representations are about things like the home's structural integrity, leaking roofs, and termite damage, not things like "the kids in the house two doors down have really loud garage band practices every day after school" or "the guy next door is a cranky jerk". But, depending on your state, there would have to be disclosures about neighborhood nuisances like a non-stop barking dog. Some state are more "pro-buyer" in this regard than others.

It is also common for closing documents to have certain "as-is" clauses regarding a lot of things regarding the state of the property. But, this isn't even about the property, just noises that can be heard from the property. If a freight-receiving business was obviously on the other side of the wall, I do not see how anyone could have been hoodwinked. Think, "you didn't tell us the house was 1/4 miles from an airport". But again, since local laws and closing contracts are in play, your boyfriend needs to talk to a local lawyer who handles such issues.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:59 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Not a lawyer or realtor. If it were me, I would start by talking with my real estate agent. On the disclosure statement in CA, one of the items the seller has to disclose is "Neighborhood noise problems or other nuisances"... I wonder if you could get them to pay for the window if nothing else? (Though not without a fight, I'm sure)
posted by cecic at 8:03 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

This really depends a lot on the details of the situation.

1. Where is this? Is it a residential neighborhood where this "establishment" is the only business in the area? Or is it a warehouse loft type of situation where it's taken for granted that people know they're moving into an industrial area?

2. What's the nature of the business? Certain types of businesses tend to be much more subject to noise pollution laws and much more heavily regulated as to how and when they can conduct certain types of business. If it's a bar or a concert venue, there are probably much stricter rules about noise than an industry that is usually considered to be quiet and not a potential disturbance.

3. What times of the day is this happening? Like, really. Time it out and record the times. If this is happening because the business is getting deliveries, and it turns out they're regularly getting deliveries at 3AM, that's a very big deal if it's a residential area. Meanwhile, a business getting deliveries at 6PM might be inconvenient for you, but probably not against any rules.

4. How loud is the noise and what is the nature of it? If it's "I can hear a thing and I wish there was silence which is unfortunate", you probably have very little recourse. If it's window-rattlingly floor-shakingly CONSTANT and LOUD in a way that makes it impossible for you to live a normal life, that's a different story. Again, especially if it's a residential area and regularly happening late at night.

For a couple years I shared a wall with neighbors who were nocturnal and just loud enough to be annoying but not loud enough to really count as a formal disturbance. It was irritating, but there was really nothing to do but get over it. That's life in a big city.
posted by Sara C. at 8:04 PM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Hmm. That sucks. But they'd either have to install some sort of sound deadening material on the wall or floor, which wouldn't be cheap (I don't think a tarp would fix anything), or stop taking deliveries during certain hours. I don't see how you could make them do that.

For what it's worth, my roommate (who owns the house) got a dog without telling anyone in advance, and I've gradually tuned out the barking, mostly. People do tend to get used to these things.

How about installing some soundproofing on your side of the wall? There's a way to frame a wall so that it doesn't connect with the other side of the wall, which reduces sound transmission. Also, I would honestly be wary of antagonizing these people too much. If the unloader's feeling put-upon, they might "accidently" make sure to randomly slam stuff down extra-hard.
posted by the big lizard at 8:05 PM on December 10, 2013

you need to look into your zoning and talk to zoning enforcement officers of your town. it's not common for industrial properties to be right next to residential ones and often the businesses that are close by are bound by certain regulations, like the hours in which they can be open. the cops will not know this but a zoning officer would. call your town, ask to speak to the building department/zoning office and tell them your story.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 8:17 PM on December 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: It's basically a really small grocery store. Quite a small building. When we visited the house on a number of occasions prior to buying, we had heard some faint music playing from beyond the wall, which we recognized to be the workers playing music, which we were fine with.

I guess it's bad luck that we never happened to be there when the pallets were being dropped, and this is something we did not expect, since there is not a giant warehouse or anything there.

The area is definitely residential. I have gone in the establishment once, and it is pretty small and run-down in there. It's not a franchise or anything like that.

I will look into talking to a zoning officer.

Thank you for your opinions.
posted by massofintuition at 8:24 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a city issue, for sure.

Zoning is one possibility, there may be noise regulations that come into play.

I don 't know about San Jose, but in NYC, someone can come out with a meter to measure the sound transference.

The owner of the grocery may be required to soundproof the walls and floor .

Your bf should look into soundproofing his side of the wall if the city can 't help you.
posted by jbenben at 8:41 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

At the very least, there might be laws about when the grocery can receive deliveries. 3 AM in a residential neighborhood seems wacky to me.
posted by Sara C. at 8:45 PM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

I know you said that calling the police was supposededly ineffectual, but you know you can call them every day it happens, even every time, and the police have to come and talk to them when you call. Eventually it becomes a nuisance and they have to do something about it because it becomes their problem too, not just your problem. That's what I was told by the police when I had a neighbor who was repeatedly playing loud music even after being warned by the police. They said eventually they become a nuisance and they will stop, and they did. This will be harder because it's a business but you have every right to have quiet in your own home, and I think maybe you should try making it a problem for them in this way.
posted by Blitz at 9:14 PM on December 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

If the neighbor building is a grocery, the zone may be something like mixed commercial/residential.
Knowing the zone and the possibilities in that zone would make you better informed. There might be a provision for no loud noise after 10:00PM, or other restriction that would be in your interest. OTOH, your boyfriend may have made an unfortunate purchase.
posted by Cranberry at 2:11 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you're probably SOL if it's during the day but with a big disclaimer of in my area here, but also other areas i've looked in to this in... If it's a residential or mixed use area, it's likely illegal for them to be making noise like that after 9 or 10pm, and generally they can't make noise before something like 8am.

Actually dealing with this sort of thing can be a gigantic pain the ass involving repeated noise complaints to the cops/city, and the solution will likely be "unloading things but not unpacking them until business hours" which would mean there would likely be more noise during the day. But it would blow my mind if this wasn't against some kind of noise ordinance if they really are slamming stuff around at 3am, or even 11pm.

I mean, unless by townhouse you mean "converted loft in a warehouse space sandwiched between two factories in the industrial district and above a night club" then that's just bizarre.

Blitz has the right idea here though(and their name is a bit eponysterical, teehee) in that you want to call the cops endlessly until they either tell you to stop calling them, or get fed up with constantly having to deal with it.

This really shouldn't be a you soundproof your house and try and block it out the best you can thing unless you really are in a commercial area, or mixed use in your area means that the noise ordinances don't prevent this. THEY should be the ones not doing this.

And, as i said at the beginning, i'm entirely talking about them doing it at night. During the day, it's generally completely open season.
posted by emptythought at 2:14 AM on December 11, 2013

the townhouse is just on the other wall of this small-ish establishment
It's basically a really small grocery store. Quite a small building.

Do you know who owns the building in question? Is it owned by the same people who own the store, or by somebody else? Perhaps it's possible to buy/take over the lease and then rent it out to a less noisy business?
posted by iviken at 6:40 AM on December 11, 2013

If you talk to the cops, see if you can get in touch with someone who is assigned to "quality of life" issues. Theoretically you should be able to talk to any officer, but you'll get more mileage if you can get in touch with someone who is assigned to dealing with this kind of stuff. Surprisingly enough they had them in New Orleans so I would expect there to be something in SJ.
posted by radioamy at 9:52 AM on December 11, 2013

I have sympathy for the police in cases like this, because they are not the best option. Police are for investigating crimes and not for staking out grocery stores to catch a 3am pallet dropper in the act of making a loud noise. Maybe the consensus is that the police should stake out the grocery store to document the noises, but the police don't think so, and probably won't allocate resources. How do I know this? Personal, direct experience.

A better course of action is to call your city Council-person who will either take it on as a pet project, or will put you in contact with the right people at City Hall. Hold your elected officials responsible for addressing quality of life issues, because they work for you! Think of it as networking. A reference, or better yet a direct introduction, to the right person from an elected official who has impact on the purse strings of government will get better results than harassing the front desk in your police precinct. How do I know this? Personal, direct experience.
posted by lstanley at 11:44 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am someone who deals with zoning - keep a log. It's the most important thing your bf can do if he wants his complaint to be taken seriously. If he can, record the noise so that it can be played back at any hearing or official complaint. Talk to your zoning official find out what the area is zoned as and if the store has a grandfather clause that allows it to be there despite it being mostly residential.

However the most important thing he can do for neighborly goodness is perhaps to address this personally prior to any official complaint. I saw that you went over there but unless you personally asked for some relief, I still think it's the best for your bf to ask for them to give him a break. Definitely any noise that happens during normal sleeping hours (IMO 9 pm - 7 am) is usually suspect, especially if he knew moving in that there was a business next door. However during business hours I personally would allow it.
posted by lasamana at 5:59 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

In addition to windows, adding a second layer of drywall, preferably with foam in between, on the wall shared with the business will help.
posted by yohko at 10:25 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

From the OP in a newer thread:
After talking with various government employees, I finally got in touch with a person in code enforcement who stoically informed me that, since the business is zoned for agricultural, they are allowed to work 24 hours a day and do whatever they well please and there's not a thing we can do about it.

I then called a lawyer whose consultation fee is $400/hour, which is a whole lot of money for pursuing a case I'm not even sure I have. I'm not even sure if he was the right kind of lawyer I'm looking for, as searching "nuisance lawyer" on yelp does nothing.
If you doubt anything of what the code enforcement officer/staffer said, you can look in the zoning ordinances yourself, or ask the code enforcement person for citations. You'll want to look into both the requirements or limitations for the zoning for that particular property, and also the requirements or limitations placed on a business of that specific type. If you are unsure about either the zoning or the specific type of business, you can look at your city or county building department's website, or call code enforcement again, or the general building plan review intake folks who usually funnel calls to others, as they should be able to pull that information up pretty quickly, if it isn't online.

If the zoning ordinances and the building code allow operations at all times of day, then there's not much a lawyer could do for you. Instead, talk with the workers who are handling the pallets, as the store owner or manager don't handle the pallets themselves. I'd suggest you ask the workers if there's any way that they could handle pallets during certain hours, because pallets aren't light, and I don't think a tarp would really muffle that much sound.

If that doesn't work, you could talk to your city or county council representative, but changing the codes will take time, and in the meantime, you'll still have to deal with the noise. Even if the codes do change, you'll deal with the noise during business hours.

In short: unless there's some prohibition from making certain noises at all, your best bet is to work on sound insulation, which would (as you noted) have the secondary benefit of improving insulation. That's the only sure fix to this annoyance. You are the newcomers, next to a business that is (probably) operating within the confines of the law.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:36 AM on March 12, 2014

I agree with cecic's point. This is an extraordinary circumstance that was clearly known to the seller unless it started after your boyfriend bought the place. The seller was required under CA law to disclose it. So I'd ask the agent for advice re. (at least) compensation for the window replacement.
posted by kalapierson at 9:26 AM on March 12, 2014

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