Dear PoP – When is Loud Music Unreasonable?

Photo from PoPville flickr user caroline.angelo

“Dear PoP,

I have a question that hopefully either you or the readers might be able to answer.

I live in a row of townhouses whose main floors face the backyards of other townhouses. This past Saturday, one of those townhouses brought out a radio and started blasting it directly at us around 7am. This continued throughout the day until about 11pm. At one point, there were about 20 people on their 2nd level deck, and at many times, no one was outside. I understand that it was a gorgeous day on Saturday and that people want to have music outside to enjoy a gathering, but I find this a little excessive. We couldn’t go anywhere in our house without hearing it, and our neighbors were upset as well, since some have young children and the boombox was pointed directly at us, from about 60ft away.

I’m 29 and so I’m not an old person that thinks everything should be quiet all day even though I moved to a populated area. Polite requests from us went unheeded, as we were told to f*** off when we simply asked for the music to be turned down a little. Is there any other recourse we could take? Police wouldn’t even come to my complex when I was reporting a bicycle theft in progress, so I doubt they would care about excessive noise. I don’t even think a law was being broken- just neighborly courtesy. I believe these are new tenants to that townhouse and I cannot imagine going through this every nice weekend throughout the summer.”

We’ve spoken about noise issues a number of times. At one time I wrote:

I think neighbor disputes are among the most difficult to deal with. It’s like the rational actor model. If you are not dealing with a rational actor it seems most people in these situations are screwed. It seems to me if you have had (a polite) conversation with your neighbors but they continue to persist in loud activities then you are left no other choice but to call the police.

Now this reader writes that they are afraid the police will not respond. The police must respond if called. They don’t have a choice to decide what call is important or not. Obviously if there is a major/violent crime units will be diverted. But in a normal situation, if there is a noise violation call they must respond. There are decibel levels that can not be exceeded. If necessary those levels can be enforced.

Having said that, I think calling the police should be a last case scenario. In this situation a polite request did not work. But sometimes psychological tactics should be employed. For instance since talking didn’t work while they had many guests over, maybe you would have better luck bringing it up again in a one on one scenario so nobody has to lose face in front of others. Perhaps they didn’t want to look bad in front of their friends by turning the music down. Perhaps you can talk to a respected long term resident from the block and have them intervene. If all those efforts don’t work, then by all means you should call the cops.

Now I have no doubt that there will be many calls for you to move to Fairfax, Iowa, etc. etc. In my opinion that way oversimplifies the situation. Yes, when you live in a city you are likely to hear city noises. And it can be loud at times. Though, to me, blasting music from 7am until 11pm is unacceptable. I’m not saying you should move to an apartment above a bar and then complain of loud music. However, if you live in a residential area you should be entitled to some modicum of peace.

In this case I strongly believe it will be helpful to talk directly or have a surrogate talk with the offending neighbor after the fact when tempers have calmed. Perhaps it was just a graduation party?

If talking doesn’t resolve the situation and you call the police in the future and they refuse to come please send me an email.

72 Comment

  • i would suggest you be a bigger pain in the ass to them than they are to you. these people could give a shit about you so you need to meet assholery with assholery. that’s it.

    • i would suggest you be a bigger pain in the ass to them than they are to you. these people could give a shit about you so you need to meet assholery with assholery. that’s it.

      You can’t get even – you can only up the ante. Don’t do this.

  • I don’t think the 7 am to 11 pm music fest is acceptable, but if it is a one time thing then I would leave it alone. It’s not worth it. Here is my take on it:

    I have next door neighbors who have complained about EVERYTHING since the day I bought my house in November. No hello, no welcome to the neighborhood, no thank god you bought the 1800 sq feet flop house with 9 “bedrooms” and 15 tenants that had been in foreclosure for six months. If I am counting correctly, I have had no less than 6 nasty voice mails or text messages from these people for things that were for the most part ridiculous.

    The first six times I apologized profusely and did everything I could to keep things civil despite some truly condescending messages and nasty manners. By the time they had their first (of two) legitimate complaint, I realized I was dealing with bullies that would never be appeased and any apology would only open the door to more complaints. I invited them to contact a lawyer and any authority they wanted to – anything but listen to them bit#h.

    So now I refuse to apologize for anything and we don’t speak. Their last complaint included the “other neighbors are complaining too” but when I ask the other neighbors, they say no issue. I rented in PW for 3 years, loved it because of the really friendly people, this was the only neighborhood I considered buying in, and now I would sell my house in a hot minute (hmmm-maybe back to the slumlord?) if I could afford to these people are making me so miserable.

    The long winded (and venting) opinion to the question: there is potentially a down-side in complaining for both of you. I also disagree with POP’s advice of asking any of your neighbors to mediate for you, it puts everyone in a bad spot. I personally would wait to see if it happens again and then consider your options. It really could have just been a one time party.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      It sounds like your situation is quite different from the one above. I’m curious, can you go into a bit more detail about what your neighbors are complaining about?

      • Yes it is different, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to vent as it seems so counter to everyone else I’ve experienced in PW. But I also wanted the original poster to have the perspective from the person receiving the complaint. (although I would certainly never tell anyone to eff off-sounds like a teenager to me).

        They were all construction/renovation complaints. I get what a pain in the arse it is to live next to a renovation. I lived next to one a couple of years ago on NH Ave that lasted a year. However this is an old neighborhood with old houses and I think if you don’t don’t want to be subjected to it, then buy in between 2 already renovated houses. Furthermore, why in the world would you buy next to a house being rented to 5 times its’ capacity in a complete state of disrepair, and then complain that your new neighbor is trying to improve it??

        Some were legitimate concerns about the work being done (but my other next door neighbors came by, we talked, and they were happy) and some were as completely ridiculous as there is construction dust on my yard covered in 4 feet of snow during the middle of the hellish snowstorm-really? A little dust? Which by the way-I immediately shoveled (if you can call 1/16 of an inch shoveling) during the snowstorm.

        The last one was regarding my 2 dogs. It was legitimate – only because it was 4 am in the morning – but they chose to stretch it to they bark all the time. To that I do say: go find a dog free neighborhood because dogs bark. And oh by the way, there are probably a minimum of 18-22 dogs on my block, some of whom bark all of the time, so why are you picking on me and not the other 18 neighbors. My dogs, for the most part, bark about the same amount as any other average dog.

        The reason I also said I disagreed with involving other neighbors is because that is what they have done. My guess is those neighbors have absolutely no issue with me; one family confirmed it and the other lives closer to some of the dogs that bark all of the time. But they are all friends and the result is it really sucks to live here.

        Whew! Sorry-my next post will be GDON-Owner Request.

        • Justifying your dog barking by saying other people’s dogs bark more and this isn’t a dog free neighborhood is pretty ridiculous on your part, the concept of quiet enjoyment should probably enter your domain. Any person who allows their dog to constantly bark is inconsiderate. Train your dog and tell your neighbors to train theirs too. Bark collars for the whole block. And you should probably move to an exclusive dog neighborhood for your next house. Your neighbors may be a pain in the ass, but you kind of sound like one yourself.

          • I agree. Being the dog owner who says, basically, “get over it, all dogs bark” is inconsiderate and makes all dog owners look bad. Dogs shouldn’t and don’t need to bark all the time. Sure, sometimes they do and it’s hard to get them to quiet down, but YOU can prevent it. Whether or not you’re willing to put in the time and effort to train them to stop is a different question.

            As for why they’re “picking on” you and not the other 18-22 other neighbors, they can hear your dogs through the walls. Chances are they can’t hear the dogs from down the block.

          • I forgot that bringing a dog into the post just pretty much degenerates all posts into the endless, recyclable dog argument with no solutions.

            My dogs didn’t even move in for the first 5 months I owned the house. The complaints started up in month one.

            Post was off topic. Enough said.

        • Anonymiserable, I feel for you. I think I even know which house this is…I live 3 blocks away and believe me, there are a ton of people who felt like throwing a party when that house sold. I’m sorry your neighbors are making it so awful for you. I hope you’re able to flip the house and buy on another block…good luck to you!!

          • Anonymiserable sounded fine in the first post, but the more he/she explained the more I wanted to side with the neighbors.

        • How do you know your dogs aren’t barking when you are gone? I had a friend in Columbia Heights who was mortified to discover that his dog was barking for three hours after he left every morning. A close neighbor friend finally tipped him off. A bark collar was tried to no avail but after some doggie prozac, everyone is doing fine now.

        • What’re the racial/ethnic flavors in question? Most petty neighbor quarrels in my area are based on that one factor alone, except the serious killing-issues of course (missing bracelets etc).

        • wow. I have the same problem with my beyatch of a neighbor. She calls the cops on us for absolutely EVERYTHING. drywall repair at 2pm on a weekday. barbecues. parties. roof repair (for which we had a permit). deck repair (for which we also had a permit).
          um what else. over dinner one night, I had 3 people over. our dinner table is right next to our humongous window out front. The cops drove by about 4 times over the course of the dinner, and my guests and I were wondering why. We thought maybe it was a normal patrol

          But now, we think the cop stopped by because this bitch kept calling the cops. He would come, hear nothing and see nothing, and then drive away.

          I know in Virginia that there are anti-harassment laws. I don’t know about DC.

          This woman also tried to get me arrested when in front of cops I asked her what the hell her problem was. I’ve only moved in 8 months ago, and I’ve never even talked to her. She said “you’re being aggressive.” Mind you, I was about 100 feet away standing on my stoop, and I’m about half the size of this woman.

          And then she accused me of violating alley easements. Right. When I said “what the heck does that mean” she didn’t say anything.

          I really wish there could be something done about assholes like her.

          Mind you, this woman operates an ILLEGAL ROOMING HOUSE. I’ve called the DCRA, and they’re dragging their feet about investigating.

  • I don’t think this post is really titled correctly.

    Loud music is just one scenario. The real issue here is having neighbors that would tell you to f*** off when you try to talk to them about how their actions are affecting you.

  • Involve your ANC rep and Jim Graham.

    • +1

      I got Jom Graham involved in a neighbor issue and things have changed slightly for the better. (Noise levels down and no one’s telling me to F off anymore!). However, I still think they’re drug dealers, with people knocking on their door at all hours of the night for a pick-up!

      • *Jim (Sorry, its early)

      • wow. how did you do that?

        It doesn’t seem like something they would get into.

        • I told Graham’s office that the noise issue was related to a housing violation (you can’t house 8 people in a 2 bedroom apartment). They pressed on the building management to get involved and eventually the management company brought a few lawsuits against them (including nonpayment of rent). I’ll be glad when they’re evicted one day!

    • It’s hard to imagine what Jim Graham would actually do in this scenario.

  • I don’t get the 7 in the morning thing at all. Thats weird. When I move in someplace I try to say hi to all the neighbors and tell them that if they have a problem to say so and there will be no hard feelings. On the other side of the coin there is a way to address the problem. I’ve had people take issue with where my motorcycle was parked and called the cops to say it was stolen, wrote the landlord to say I was running a drug house and sent over a big guy to tell me that my party at eight p.m. with nine people was out of control. I’m have a don’t shit where you live policy and if the neighbor does something that I don’t like that does not impact on my property then they can keep doing it. I’d rather have a neighbor than someone that I feel the need to police. They stopped the music at 11 and you should be glad about that. You know what they say…if it’s too loud then your too old.

  • Yeah, I don’t get this whole: Deal with the loud music, you’re the one who moved to the city… Why isn’t it the other way around: Deal with it, you moved to the city so can’t play your music as loud as you want…???

    • I live in Petworth. I love city living. My neighbors are quiet, I sleep like a baby, and no one bothers us about anything. It’s not too much to ask for a little peace from the neighbhors – neither the loud music situation nor the jerky neighbor are par for the course. It doesn’t have to be like that.

  • Based on my experiences over in brookland, i wouldn’t expect the police to come by until there’s multiple complaints. And not to have anycobtact with the people who live there until they personally observe the problem (which they won’t if it’s your back yard).

    The loud & disorderly/boisterous talking ordinance requires the offense to be to a “considerable number of persons.”

    If you ask them, and they say “f*** off”
    Then ask your neighbors, and all call

    but anything before 10pm is fair game IMHO, so don’t be waiting by the phone all mad at 8

  • Why is it the city you’re supposed to not give a flying flea’s fart about your neighbors and others in the city? In a rural isolated area you can have as many guns as you want and play your music as loud as you want. You know why? Because there is no one to hear you. Okay, someone might hear the gun go off and wonder if it’s hunting seson.
    We live only feet from each other in the city. You’d think in that situation common courtesy would florish.

    • Sounds like the urban grind is grinding you down, very little common sense, courtesy, decency… it’s unfortunate.

    • These problems aren’t unique to DC though. Where I grew up (forested suburban-like area) there were no hunting/fishing signs, but people still trespassed with their rifles. These people are everywhere.

      In urban areas there is just more frequent interaction with others (whether it is good or bad) – and so more chances to develop the skills of being a good neighbor and compromising with others who live nearby.

  • Pay some 15-year-olds to burn their house down. That will end the problem very, very quickly.

    Just kidding.

  • We had a similar experience recently, complete with being told to f*ck off, and it’s incredibly frustrating. Our house backs up to an apartment building with decks off the back. The guy in the upstairs apartment, closest to our house and about 25 feet from the baby’s room, had a few very drunk friends over. We didn’t mind the music as much, although it was annoying, but the wasted guy screaming for no reason every few minutes was a killer and woke the baby up every time. As soon as we had him back to sleep, the idiot would yell again. And several times of us asking them to please at least go inside and/or stop yelling, he sat in the open window – maybe 30 feet from the baby’s room – and yelled from there. Purposely. Thankfully, the guy who lives there is reasonable and nice and eventually kicked his buddy out. I chalk that down to having spoken with him nicely on previous occasions.

    We have called the police a number of times for noise complaints about one particular house across the street and they have actually shown up. We’re surprised each time, but they do respond. Once or twice, they’ve even shut the party down. So don’t rule out that as an option if nothing else works.

    But I agree that having a civil conversation with the neighbors is the place to start. Do it now, when you’re not pissed off and they’re not having a party. Get a phone number or two from the people who live there. If they’re still inconsiderate and thoughtless, keep calling MPD.

  • This reminds me of the time I had a roommate who once came home drunk and blasted music at 3am. I asked him to turn down the music and he said, “Why? Do you have to work in the morning?”

    WTF? As though it shouldn’t have mattered if I didn’t?

    I agree that talking to them at another time when the problem is not occurring is probably the best first step.

  • Apologies if this posts twice, computer messing up. You should call the cops. I do it all the time for two particular houses on my street. They have parties every weekend that rage on all night unless stopped. And it isn’t the music thats loud…its the “guests” who spill out onto neighboring front lawns, the sidewalk, the street, and the hoods of parked cars. They throw their beer and liquor bottles all over the place, shout, fight, and generally act like huge a-holes. Also, I am pretty sure the residents who have these parties are all unemployed other than dealing drugs (for which I have called the cops as well), and they deserve to have their parties broken up.
    Here is a tip – tell the police that you think there is a big fight going on where the noise violation is…that gets a quick response!!

  • Don’t bother with the civil conversations, I would say, in this case. If your neighbors are inconsiderate enough to blast music for 16 hours, they will be inconsiderate enough to ignore you and do it again. Call the police. If the music is unacceptably loud, the police will hear it and they will warn them, and if they have to come back they can issue a citation. If their behavior continues, go to your ANC or homeowners association if you have one. You’ve been rebuffed once, so no need to continue the nice neighbor route.

    • +1. Clue #1: 16 hrs. of loud music in a confined space. Clue #2: when you politely asked, they told you to F*** off. These are not good neighbors.

      Why does anybody suggest extending maximum courtesy/civility to the least civil among us? I agree that’s the place to start, but the OP’s already tried that. Sometimes it’s what your neighbor is doing that’s the problem, but sometime it’s just who your neighbors are. Call the authorities.

  • that they told you to eff off is the most troubling part of the story – you at least hope that someone is willing to talk to you rationally if there is a problem. i was woken up from a dead sleep at 3 am on a thursday a few weeks ago when my neighbor brought all her friends back to her apartment after being out. i went out to talk to her and she was very apologetic and the folks left soon after – so at least i was dealing with a somewhat reasonable person.

  • me

    It’s me, the OP. I have just learned that our neighbors a few doors down, who have a 10-month-old child, called the cops around 10pm because their child wasn’t able to sleep all day. The cops never showed up. I may get a group of us to go over and try to speak with the owner, just because I am a bit scared to go over by myself. We’re all fairly rational people so I don’t think it’d be like we’re ganging up on them.

    After speaking with yet another (much older) neighbor, he mentioned that this is the same group of people that hang out in the alleyway between us and their house throughout the day, doing drugs (pot, I’d assume) and playing dice. I’ve never seen this because I work during the day. Apparently he’s been harrassed by these people while walking his dog and even though he called the cops, again, they didn’t come. I don’t understand what is up with the police in my area. If I lived at the corner of 14th and U, or in downtown Adams Morgan on 18th or something, I would be prepared to live in an area with a lot of noise into the wee hours. But I don’t feel that I signed up for this.

    Thanks for all of your helpful posts!!

    • What neighborhood do you live in?

      Often times your ANC can help get the police involved.

      • me

        I’m about 2.5 blocks off of U Street. It was always somewhat quiet. Yeah, every once in awhile you get a bit of noise, but it’s not like I live next to a restaurant/bar/liquor store/bus stop/whatever. I liked this place because it seemed quiet (and has been for the past 3 years), most of the neighbors seem really cool, and I only have to walk a few blocks to get to the restaurants/bars/metro/etc. Best of both worlds, right???… in theory, I guess.

    • if someone tells you to fuck off after a polite request, simply involve the police. don’t go over there yourself. a “fuck off” is a threat.

      get as many police officer cell phone numbers as possible.
      if you ( ever happen to ) see an officer on the street, go talk to them and ask what the best course of action is. 99% of them want to help you. maybe 90%.

      start a phone tree and all call when you have a complaint.
      inundate them.
      call the commander for your district.
      email them.
      get the anc people involved.

      you’ll see results.
      if you go over to talk to them en masse, you may not see results you’d be very happy with.

      • I’ve signed up for the Petworth and MPD-4D yahoo groups. The police are very responsive to comments made on these boards. You might want to take your question there.

    • So now we have at it: you’re not dealing with a backyard BBQ that got out of hand from otherwise reasonable neighbors, but the alley-hanging, drug-doing, dice-shooting, old-guy-on-the-street-harrassing, and eff-you-if-you-have-anything-to-say-about-it crowd.

      No offense, but what do you think will be accomplished by going over to talk it over with the owner, even with other neighbors in tow? Call the cops every single time you have an inkling of a problem with this house, and make a record of police non-response that you then share with Cathy Lanier, Jim Graham, and the mayor when it’s sufficiently long. Or find a creative lawyer to file a civil lawsuit against the owner.

  • Pop nailed it in his response.

    I’m 35 and personally I love it when people have cookouts and play music outside. It just gives me the feeling that people are having a good time and enjoying life and it adds flavor to the neighborhood. There should be a time frame, something like 10AM to sundown.

    As much as I like rap music it does bother me when someone blares songs with excessive curse words, for the kids sake, you know, not for mine.

  • SouthwestDC

    “Now I have no doubt that there will be many calls for you to move to Fairfax, Iowa, etc. etc. In my opinion that way oversimplifies the situation.”

    Actually, my parents live on 3 acres of land in suburban New Jersey, and they are dealing with exactly the same problem. The next-door neighbors are continuously blasting loud music outside, even though they are rarely out there. A neighbor (several houses away!) complained to the police but it didn’t seem to have the desired effect. You can image how loud the music must be when people that far away are complaining about it. I’m interested to see what solutions are recommended here.

  • The city means tolerance but it also means consideration and communication. If your neighbor refuses to communicate or be considerate, call the cops immediately. If they don’t come, call again and again and mention that you are calling for the second, third, etc. time. The burden is not on you to bend over backwards to avoid bringing the authorities into it when it is the neighbor who is engaging in aggressive, antisocial behavior in the first place.

  • It’s not illegal to play loud music in the daytime hours, as long as it doesn’t go over the legal decibel limit. That’s probably the reason the cops won’t come when you call them. They have actual crimes to attend to. While “fuck you” is not the most artful form of communication, “deal with it” is the correct sentiment here. City life is city life, don’t expect it to bend to your will just because you want it to.

    • hurray for lowered expectations!

      • I don’t think the expectations have been lowered. I’ve always expected loud noises and music in the city. I embrace loud noises and music in the city.

        • bull. you just made that up.

        • It’s great that you embrace it, but there are ~600K other people in “the city” that may or may not, and since loud sounds are something that people who don’t “embrace” them can’t ignore, it’s best to not force them on people. You may have romantic notions of “bright lights & big city” but in reality it’s more peaceful streets and nice neighbors, DC is a relatively quiet town (having lived in the District my entire life it seems that way).

          If you embrace loud noises and music in the city, then go to a bar or a club (probably less than a block away) and embrace it with everyone else who agrees. That
          s why people love the city right? Bars and clubs close by? Being overly loud in the yard seems more like a suburb/rural thing to me.

          Even if I “embrace” dog shit all over the sidewalk (it’s so charming in a Parisian sort of way), I will still pick it up so you don’t have to “embrace” it too.

        • I’m gonna plant my ass right in front of your bedroom window in the wee hours and blast Lady Gaga (or some other shit-crap music (or classical or gansta rap or country or whatever it is that you hate) cranked all the way up to mother-effin’ 11!

          I call BS on you – and I guarantee you’d be on the phone to the cops instantly, if not getting directly in my face.

          • if you did it after-hours or during the wee hours or whatever you call it, it would be illegal. the music this blog post is about is going on during the daytime, not during the wee hours. i don’t know if it’s cranked to 11 or not. there are decibel limits under the law.

    • City living means we all have some basic responsibilities to each other. For example, we all have to clear the sidewalks after it snows.

      In this case, we all have to deal with the fact that living with population density means something different from living in the farflung suburbs. We all have to put up with city noise during the day. But we all have a responsibility to be reasonable about the noise we are creating. After a reasonable hour in the evening, parties need to go indoors, loud music needs to be turned down, etc.

      “City life is city life” — yes, and that means you can’t expect to be as free as you are in the exurbs. You have to be a grownup.

      • yes, and the neighbor in this situation isn’t playing their music after hours. the music is on during the day time in this situation. nothing wrong with that.

  • Find out who your POLICE LIEUTENANT is and tell them this story. Involve your lieutenant by name and make sure you go to their public safety meeting.

  • @anonymous 12:45
    “the music this blog post is about is going on during the daytime, not during the wee hours.”

    according to the post, it went on until 11pm. I don’t call that day time. But, in deference to your point, I will adjust my schedule and blast the shit-crap music just shy of 11pm and just below the decibel limit.

    I still call BS on anonymous 11:12. Not sure if that was you or not.

  • I have neighbor problems, too. Well, I guess landlord, upstairs neighbor, and street neighbor problems.

    With my upstairs neighbors wear high heels or hard-soled shoes, have no rugs, and clomp excessively through their house. I cc the landlord on every email about noise. Though, I am starting to just silently seethe at the landlord–seriously, someone walking around, scuffing their slippers against wood floors, should not sound similar to jump rope! I believe the floors were never properly sound sealed and now I am paying the price.

    My outdoor neighbors are of the corner standing, dice playing, drinking and peeing on the side of my house variety. They walk down my gangway smoking pot and peeing but never spend enough time to get caught by the police (I always call now). Our motion-sensor security lights do not deter them from peeing or having sex against my car (sweet!)…

    All I have to say is I am going to strike down on these a$$hats like a nothing they have ever experienced if they disrupt my sleeping baby after he is born. I will be in my bathrobe screaming on the sidewalk. I will be the scariest 5’1″ Italian girl they have ever seen! I will probably lose it with my landlord, too.

    • Oh, and I can clearly hear my upstairs neighbors conversations and when they flush their toilets it sounds like a waterfall flowing the walls…

      • So, what, now they’re not supposed to flush their toilets? Would you prefer they use chamber pots between the hours of 10pm-9am?

        • Nope, just saying the landlord must have done something wrong in the complete reno in 2007! No problems with toilet flushing, here!!

  • You cant really win against these people by yourself. You have more to lose than they do.

    You cant fight Crazy. Crazy always wins.

  • me

    Thanks, everyone. I really appreciate your honesty and help! I’ve got plenty of avenues that will hopefully help me out now. Again, thanks. And if I need some reinforcements to crack some skulls, I know where to turn. 😉

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