Dear PoPville – Any Laws Governing the Use of Generators?

Photo by PoPville flickr user grit and whatever

“Dear PoPville,

A nearby neighbor in Pleasant Plains has been using a generator all night every night (and often throughout the day) for the past few months. In the beginning, we thought that maybe they had a generator as a back-up because perhaps they forgot to pay the bill and were waiting for re-installation from the electric company or something. However, as the weeks, then months pass, the noise from the generator that goes on every night without fail has us wondering … is this legal?

Do any of the Pleasant Plains neighbors hear this, too, and wonder what is going on? The house is on Sherman Ave and not under construction, and the few times I have been home during weekdays or have noticed over weekends, the generator generally stops running by noon and doesn’t kick back up until close to night-fall. We live with open windows and no air conditioning, so despite it being several houses away, the hum of the generator comes right to our ears every night. I don’t even want to think about gas that the thing may be throwing off. However, I do wonder if there are any DC laws governing the use of generators after hours and for any length of time.

A Pleasant Plains resident missing out on some sleep”

18 Comment

  • Call 911 and make a noise complaint.

  • The company I work for installs generators, so I have a tad bit of knowledge in this department(We cover lots of territory so this isn’t necessarily dc specific). Generally, generators are only allowed to be operated around normal business/working hours. That is the hours between usually around 8 am up to 9 pm or so. This is usually also whatever hours noise ordinances apply. Outside of that they are usually only permitted during a declared emergency when the noise ordinances are not enforced such as a hurricane or storm that leaves large pockets of people without power.

  • Concerned about air quality issues, I inquired recently with DDOE about all the generators being used by the food trucks throughout the city. I was told there are no restrictions. I wondered about the ones used inside the trucks, seems like a CO hazard.

  • I’ve heard it too!
    It’s crazy.

  • I feel the same way when I wake up every morning when my house is filled with the smell and haze of smoke from Sweet Mangos.

  • The normal DC noise restriction would apply – which I believe limits mechanical noise to under 70 dbs at the property line.

    Check the regs and then if you think they are in violation, either speak to your neighbor, or get an inspection by calling 442-9957.

    • If, as it sounds, they’re generating electricity for their home, seems like DCRA would be all over them for any number of issues related to electric supply/wiring permitting. If you can find the right person from DCRA to inspect, and they find a violation, the homeowner will be shut down very quickly.

  • Sherman and what cross street? I’m on Sherman near Irving and haven’t noticed anything.

  • OP here, the one suffering for months with having to listen to the hum of a generator doors away (I really can’t imagine what it’s like for those houses that share the alley and the wall – when I was walking around trying to figure out exactly which house it was, the noise was pretty incredible for the next door neighbors). The house is a few doors up from Girard on Sherman.
    Is this something I call 311 with to file a complaint for the noise? If I call 442-9957, as John suggested, it’s ok for me as a neighbor to do this? I feel so hopelessly lost on this. And yes, after being home all weekend this past weekend, it’s clear to me that they are using the generator as their source of energy since it ran all weekend long as well as all night. They probably only turn it off when they leave the house during the afternoon on week days.

  • In D.C., 911 is now for non-emergencies as well as emergencies. (I think 311 used to be the non-emergency number, but then it was appropriated as the number for city services.)

  • Have you approached the neighbor with your concerns? If it’s a rental property and approaching the resident doesn’t work, I would recommend looking up the owner of the property on the OTR website ( and informing them via letter (preferably certified) that their tenants are running a generator. If I owned the property and found out that tenants were running a generator nonstop at my property (fire hazard), I would be pissed off for sure. Then again, the landlord might not give a s*** as long as the rent checks keep showing up.

    But if you don’t want to approach the neighbors for whatever reason, I agree with the last person…Call 911. Just start off the call by telling the dispatcher that it’s not an emergency, and ask him/her if it’s ok to proceed. If they’re super busy, then they’ll just ask that you call back some other time.

  • There was a house across the alley from me that had its electricity shut off so the people used a generator instead. They kept it on constantly, until it caught on fire….. and caught part of the house on fire, which then caught the rest of the house on fire and because these are attached townhomes. part of the the neighboring house. Luckily the damage to the neighboring house was only about a couple of hundred dollars. The generator house, I’m guessing several tens of thousands.
    So it can be a fire hazard if it been going on for a while. Call 911 and DCRA.

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