The Noisy Neighbor
Unless your rental property is out in the middle of rural farmland, noise is bound to be heard from time to time. Usually it goes unnoticed by neighbors because the noise is brief, happening at various times of the day, or is barely audible. However, noise that’s long-lasting, consistent, and unreasonably loud will likely get under a neighbor’s skin, prompting them to file a noise complaint about one of your tenants. These complaints could be received in the form of a letter from the neighborhood HOA, an official nuisance complaint made by the city, or an angry email written by an annoyed neighbor.
So how should you handle an issue about a noisy tenant?
Determine the validity of the noise complaint.
Before confronting the tenant in question, be sure that the noise complaint filed is a valid one. Your neighbor was obviously motivated to file or send the complaint about a disturbance, but as a landlord, it’s your responsibility to determine its validity. Your tenants are allowed to live their lives (routines and non-routines) inside their rental home. Sometimes these activities will create noise – it happens.
Noise ordinances are common practices in most neighborhoods and cities. If your area has one in place, you should remind tenants of permissible noise levels and quiet hours through regular reminders via email or at-door notification letters. If a complaint was filed with the city through the local police, you may want to seek assistance at city hall to have the noise measured to see if the complaint was legitimate. And if you have a set of house rules for tenants to follow, you can evaluate the situation based on your own standards (as long as it adheres to local noise laws). Once the complaint’s validity is defined, you can then determine if you have a noisy tenant or just a nitpicky neighbor.
Common examples of noise complaints:
- Arguing Tenants
Renters living under the same roof are bound to bicker every now and then. An occasional spat heard through the walls isn’t worthy of a complaint. Screaming matches are a different story, especially if the fight is taking place regularly.
- Dogs Barking
Dogs bark – it’s one of the many things they do. Intermittent barks and howls are one thing, but relentless barking throughout the day is another that might make a neighbor complain.
- Having People Over
Dinner parties and small gatherings that wrap up by 11:00 pm aren’t valid complaints (unless your property has noise laws to abide by). Regular nights of partying and music blasting into the early morning are somethings worth investigating.
- Footsteps Above
Tenants are free to move around their rental day or night. Hearing footsteps above isn’t a valid complaint. Though, if an upstairs tenant was stomping around or jumping incessantly then yes, that would be a valid noise complaint.
- Loud Music
Tenants playing loud music during the day – for hours on end – is worthy of a noise complaint, especially if it’s not their first infraction. The occasional loud music…nope.
What to do with a valid noise complaint.
Have you received multiple complaints from tenants and neighbors before? If yes, then you have a valid reason to begin notifying the source of the noise. You could also go and see for yourself if the complaint made holds merit – especially if the offense occurs at the same time each day.
As a landlord, it’s your responsibility to address the complaint immediately, since it’s affecting someone else. Make sure you explain the issue to the tenant in question, and remind him/her of the quiet enjoyment clause in the lease agreement they signed. Hopefully one warning is all you need to give in order to get the person to stop. If not, more extensive measure might need to be taken to resolve the problem.
Handling a non-valid noise complaint.
If you found the complaint invalid, let the complaining party know that you’ve concluded the investigation and have found that the tenant didn’t violate the noise policy. Explain to them why and how the open case is now closed. Be sure to still encourage your neighbors to bring a noisy tenant to your attention if they’re hindering their living situation. Everyone deserves to live comfortably and at peace in their home, right?
How to keep the noise down at your property.
The best way to protect yourself, tenants, and neighbors from noise is to include a noise clause in your rental agreement. If a tenant breaks the property rules, you can refer them back to the lease and act based on the written repercussions. As a landlord, you could benefit greatly by adding the following in your clause:
- Posted quiet hours in quiet enjoyment clause
- Disturbing noise examples (e.g. shouting, loud singing, music blasting from home or vehicle, etc.)
- Noise violation penalty fee from landlord and/or police
- Probationary period details after first offense
- Repercussions of additional noise notifications (rent increase, fees, eviction notice)
- Other activities that may “disturb the peace” (use of drugs on premises, speeding, unruly behavior, etc.)
Best practice is to screen tenants.
Screening tenants beforehand can help ensure that you’re bringing the right person onto your property. Background checks and reviewing landlord references can help you determine if the prospect has any concerning noise complaints (or any other types of concerns) in their rental history.
To wrap it up.
If you’re receiving noise complaints about a tenant, it’s your responsibility as the landlord to handle the situation (with care, of course). Never rush to judgement – fully investigate the matter before coming to a final decision. And when you do, if a compromise can be made between both parties, suggest it to them and see if it will rectify the situation.