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Dear PoP – When is Loud Music Unreasonable?

by Prince Of Petworth May 17, 2010 at 10:34 pm 72 Comments


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.

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