Landlord Tips: How to Resolve Noise Complaints

by Chris on June 22, 2015

Noise is everywhere around us. But when noise occurs in a rental property, it can cost a landlord time and money. That’s reason enough to become proficient at handling noise complaints.

These complaints can be difficult to resolve because:

1. Most noise disturbances occur in the middle of the night;
2. It can be tricky to identify the source;
3. Enforcement efforts are not always successful; and
4. Sometimes the complaining tenant is being too sensitive to normal noises.

Tenants’ Right to Quiet Enjoyment

tenant screeningThe right to quiet enjoyment of the rental property is at the heart of noise complaints. Tenants are entitled to live free from unreasonable disturbances, which can include excessive, ongoing noise. Inaction by the landlord can violate a tenant’s quiet enjoyment, giving rise to monetary awards. So, it is imperative for landlords to resolve tenant noise complaints.

Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.

When is Noise Excessive?

Normal daily activities make noise. No one can access kitchen cabinets or glide along the floor above undetected. Yet, other tenants often complain about these noises. The fact is some tenants are simply too sensitive to noise, and struggle to live in multifamily situations.

That means landlords must evaluate the problem and discern which tenant — the one complaining, or the one making noise — needs intervention. To do that, landlords must decide if the noise is normal, or excessive.

Evaluating Noise Complaints

The guidelines for determining when noise is  “excessive” are situation-specific. Landlords must decide on a case-by-case basis whether the noise complaint is legitimate. Turning to the experts — arbitrators who decide noise issues — can shed some light.

Arbitrators may consider:

1. Whether the noise complaint comes from a single source or if multiple tenants are complaining.

2. If a single source, whether this tenant has a habit of complaining, and whether those prior complaints were legitimate.

3. Whether the landlord has witnessed the noise firsthand and can identify the source.

4. The frequency of the occurrence — once in a while versus every night.

5. Whether the tenant or landlord has documented the specific times that the noise occurs.

6. Whether the activity that creates the noise is a normal living activity, such as walking, cooking, talking.

7. What steps the landlord has taken to attempt to resolve the issue, such as speaking with the offending tenant, or offering the complaining tenant a different unit.

Recent examples demonstrate how these factors overlap:

A landlord adopted a policy of not acting on noise complaints from a single source — one tenant. A complaining tenant was told to speak with the loud upstairs directly. That neighbour responded by turning up the volume and becoming belligerent. Later, the complaining tenant was told to submit noise complaints in writing only. Nothing was done until another tenant complained. After that, the loud tenant was offered two separate warnings. Meanwhile, the complaining tenant endured sleep disruption for 15 months. That tenant ultimately was awarded a rent abatement on the basis that the landlord did not protect her quiet enjoyment.

In another situation, an arbitrator sided with the noisy tenants. The landlord attempted to evict those tenants due to multiple noise complaints from one other tenant. The offending tenants denied that they were the ones making the noise and pointed blame at other tenants. The arbitrator determined that, because no one else had complained, the noise was not frequent and unreasonable enough to justify an eviction. However, the arbitrator added that, should the landlord witness the noise in the future, an eviction may be warranted.

Another case highlights the difficulties when one tenant is too sensitive to noise. The downstairs tenant lodged several noise complaints against his upstairs neighbour. The landlord responded by asking the upstairs tenant to be aware of the complaints. She responded by walking barefoot, and doing her best to keep the cabinet doors from banging. Each time the downstairs tenant complained, the landlord contacted the upstairs neighbour and asked her to be aware of the noise levels. The downstairs tenant still was not satisfied. The landlord offered to move him to a different unit, but he refused. The tenant ultimately asked for a rent abatement on the grounds that the landlord violated his right to quiet enjoyment. At the time he filed his complaint the noise had stopped, but the tenant feared it would continue in the future.

In that case, an arbitrator dismissed the complaint because the noises the tenant was experiencing are “normal daily living” noises. No one else had complained about the upstairs neighbour, who had resided there for six years. That tenant was already walking with bare feet and attempting to keep the noise to a minimum. The noise complaints were vague as to specific occurrences, and the landlord had responded, including providing the tenants with an emergency phone number for complaints. The upstairs neighbour was not required to take “extraordinary measures” to control noise from “normal living” activities.

The Best Landlord Policies for Noise Complaints

Act Quickly

Respond immediately to noise complaints. This serves any number of objectives. For instance, it is the best opportunity to witness the noise firsthand. That in turn will make the job of resolving the complaint far easier than interviewing tenants after the fact.

A quick response may prevent tempers from flaring.

Provide Options

tenant screeningUse psychology. The complaining tenant may feel ignored. That’s going to trigger more complaints. Show empathy and reassure the complaining tenant that his or her feelings matter. Let the tenant know there are options, and that you will stay in touch until the problem is resolved.

Let the tenant know you will intervene, or if that’s not appropriate, offer suggestions on how to reduce the annoyance from unavoidable noises — run a fan, a white noise machine, move furniture to quieter areas within the unit and so on. Another option is to offer to move the complaining tenant to another unit if that’s possible. As a last resort, consider releasing the chronic complainer from the lease. That may be the least expensive way forward.

Let Your Lease Do the Legwork

Your lease agreement can be a powerful tool — use it! Many noise disputes can be avoided simply by stating the rules, so tenants know what is or is not allowed. This helps the offending tenants as much as the complaining tenant.

The lease also can serve as a road map for handling complaints. The language used in the lease agreement is very important, so seek legal advice when writing or reviewing these provisions.

The rules must be clear if the lease is to serve as a deterrent. The more details the better, but use caution. Reactionary policies can result in income loss. Trying to list all the behaviours that might give rise to noise complaints leads to problems like discrimination claims. For instance, restricting the number of bodies that can be in a unit at one time may limit noise from raucous friends watching a hockey game, but it also limits the number of guests who can attend extended family dinners, which may be discriminatory. The same is true of policies that place noise restrictions only on children.

It is better to focus on the characteristics of the noise, not the people.

Remember, the best lease agreement is not the one you can enforce; it’s the one you don’t have to.

Preparing Tenants for Apartment Living

Anticipating and confronting noise issues head-on is another effective policy for landlords.

Speak with incoming tenants about common noise issues and ask for their cooperation. Night owls can listen to music on headphones and email or text at night to avoid loud phone conversations while others are sleeping.

Counsel tenants who are moving in to do so during daytime hours.

At the same time, prepare tenants for the unavoidable noises they will experience. For instance, maybe there’s an early morning trash pick-up. Suggest tenants close the windows or run a fan during this time period.

Have this conversation early in the leasing process. This is particularly helpful if the tenant has never lived in a multifamily environment. It’s best to flag the rental applicant who won’t adjust and is likely to become a chronic complainer.

Screen Your Tenants

Never overlook the importance of finding the right tenants and running tenant background checks. Find out if your rental applicant has been the subject of noise complaints before history repeats.

Keep Up With Repairs

Sometimes noise complaints are generated from the building itself. Steps like updating windows and beefing up insulation will go a long way towards keeping the peace.

Remain Calm

Keep emotion out of it. Anger will cause irreparable harm to landlord-tenant relationships. You may end up losing both tenants if you lose your head.

The Worst Strategy for Dealing  with Noise

Requiring tenants to confront their noisy neighbours directly is a bad idea. That can lead to any number of liabilities. Disgruntled tenants may ask for rent abatement. Frightened or angry tenants may turn to the police. Frequent police visits can drive down property value and impact tenant retention. Some disputes escalate into harassment or physical violence, and a landlord may wind up paying compensation to an injured tenant.

Landlords have a duty to manage their rental properties, and to keep the peace. Don’t hand that off to the tenants, or to the police. Tenants are rarely successful in resolving these disputes on their own. Passing the task onto tenants also prevents the landlord from witnessing and documenting the disturbance, which can make it nearly impossible to evict a rule-breaking tenant.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Mel b February 13, 2019 at 2:29 pm

I moved into an apartment month ago and cannot sleep the above tenant coughs most night and early morning I don’t know whst to do.maybe he she is sick? But I will be soon if I don’t sleep.

Missy uneek February 14, 2019 at 2:04 pm

I have a neighbor across the hall who has a cough/groan kind of thing every 5 – 10 mins. every evening, for years now. My advice, Before you get too comfy in your unit ask a neighbor next to/near them if they have noticed. (You can introduce yourself, or try to ‘happen” to catch them in the hall. They might tell you if it is an ongoing thing. You should ask the manager directly, in person, so you see reaction. “Does the neighbor in the apartment above me always cough like that?” . Ideally find the name on buzzer or mailboxes and ask “Does Mrs Johnson in #218 always cough like that?” It’s hard to pretend not to know the answer if someone is looking at, and directly asking you.
It might seem like something you don’t want to bother with or you don’t want to be ‘a complainer’, but if it is a sound you will be on hearing every day it’s better to know right away. It could be COPD or something. Chronic being key word. If it is, you can ask about getting a different unit, if one is available, or will be soon. It might seem like an extreme request, but imagine, it’s a nice spring morning, sound of birds chirping,. and sound of coughing,.. or summer night, windows open, feeling good, then… hacking cough sound. Lying in bed trying to relax,… hacking cough,.. significant other in bed, hacking cough. You get the idea.
That friend of mine who lived next to that cough/groan man, tried white noise machine, fans, keeping the radio or t.v. on, and such, but once you’re aware of something it’s hard to pretend you don’t hear it. Ignoring a sound? “I will not think about the coughing, I will not think about the coughing” lol
If it turns out they’re just very sick that’s good news – for you, but I’d use hand sanitizer every time you leave or enter the building!
Good luck
Oh, important, don’t assume apartment numbers line up. #210 might be over #112. Check to be sure. Once, a neighbor pounded on my door, irate and yelling at me only to discover, after minutes of arguing, that it was apt next to mine that was above him.

Missy uneek February 14, 2019 at 2:29 pm

Comment on Mel B’s comment
I have a neighbor across the hall who has a cough/groan kind of thing every 5 – 10 mins. every evening, for years now. My advice, Before you get too comfy in your unit ask a neighbor next to/near them if they have noticed. (You can introduce yourself, or try to ‘happen” to catch them in the hall. They might tell you if it is an ongoing thing. You should ask the manager directly, in person, so you see reaction. “Does the neighbor in the apartment above me always cough like that?” . Ideally find the name on buzzer or mailboxes and ask “Does Mrs Johnson in #218 always cough like that?” It’s hard to pretend not to know the answer if someone is looking at, and directly asking you.
It might seem like something you don’t want to bother with or you don’t want to be ‘a complainer’, but if it is a sound you will be on hearing every day it’s better to know right away. It could be COPD or something. Chronic being key word. If it is, you can ask about getting a different unit, if one is available, or will be soon. It might seem like an extreme request, but imagine, it’s a nice spring morning, sound of birds chirping,. and sound of coughing,.. or summer night, windows open, feeling good, then… hacking cough sound. Lying in bed trying to relax,… hacking cough,.. significant other in bed, hacking cough. You get the idea.
That friend of mine who lived next to that cough/groan man, tried white noise machine, fans, keeping the radio or t.v. on, and such, but once you’re aware of something it’s hard to pretend you don’t hear it. Ignoring a sound? “I will not think about the coughing, I will not think about the coughing” lol
If it turns out they’re just very sick that’s good news – for you, but I’d use hand sanitizer every time you leave or enter the building!
Good luck
Oh, important, don’t assume apartment numbers line up. #210 might be over #112. Check to be sure. Once, a neighbor pounded on my door, irate and yelling at me only to discover, after minutes of arguing, that it was apt next to mine that was above him.

Randy February 23, 2019 at 5:08 pm

Hello,
I have a friend who is going to trial on March 5t hin Cherry Hill, New Jersey because of an excessive noise complaint against him by a neighbor below him in his apartment building. Are there documented cases online or in a law library of past tenant to tenant trials so I may read them and research this for him? Thank you very much.
Randy

Alma Williams April 12, 2019 at 12:20 pm

I have a neighbor next door they’re fighting constantly their noise don’t start until mostly after 12:00 am and last until about 2:00 am or 3:00 am. The gentleman that lives there wear these heavy boots on a wood stairway. i have had a brain surgery and heart surgery and this noise cuts off a my sleep routine also living with migraine headaches due to the lack of sleep. this issue is really effecting my health and i do need help with this situation. I also have a witness which is the tenant willing to verify this information with me.

alice a huings May 23, 2019 at 11:04 pm

I have a tenant who live above me who alway up 1w am dropping heavy things moving furniture around and stumping and he do this at night when iat night when i am sleeping this man don’t work home all day but wait until 12 am or 1 am to make noise i complaint again and again to the proerty manager they tell him to stop doing it but only get mad and make more noise i need help

Barbara May 29, 2019 at 5:55 pm

Windchimes are driving me crazy.at night i get woke up.clang clang clang.manager wont do anything.i clised windows ,turned fan on and i can still hear it.somebody help with some good legal advice

Blah Blah June 29, 2019 at 3:27 am

I’m sorry, but some content in this article and suggestions are useless and unrealistic. It must be that something is written by one who has NO IDEA themselves of the hell that one can endure and feel that things need to change to actually address these issues. Things do not become resolved just thru generalizations, assumptions or shrugging it off.

I have had a bozo living on my ceiling for many months. He works afternoon to evening so “his evening” is spent from late night through the early a.m. hours. He thinks nothing of making bangs, clunking in kitchen, unnecessary HARD walking and repeatedly slamming all windows open / closed at any hour. He originally played loud Bass noise nightly which the manager finally addressed, but I still will hear rumbling noise from his TV, but not always. I keep my music and TV low and would never act like this inconsiderate idiot (who is in his 50’s and should know better).

Though early on I had left the tenant a letter, it didn’t matter. The manager has loosely tried speaking to him if she catches him and he just says he’s “doing nothing” and is forgotten about. She is pretty passive. When she had tried phonecalls, he would not answer or return her call. It’s not as if the manager can be here at 3:00 a.m. to witness (and one would need to spend the night to know how consistent it is). It never gets resolved and feel a different manager might do something. This is not a situation where others would hear him from their unit either, so the idea that more than one could corroborate, does not apply.

This has affected my sleep, enjoyment, my schedule and brain. I cannot move to another unit here and am waiting for specific housing elsewhere which there is too much competition for, so it’s all pretty impossible. If one has $$, they have more freedom to choose, but some don’t. The assumption should never be that one is “oversensitive” or that it “is construction”. I have had many neighbors who were unlike this and functioned normally, making bearable living sounds and were considerate. Having lived in apartments for years, I never even experienced this level of annoyance until later in life.

I want to know why one is allowed to whatever they want, not considering the hour or being rude at any time of day, living in shared housing and despite signing agreements. The issue of stomping I see is a huge problem and should not be overlooked, though is said “one can’t be told how to walk”. Some just have a problem and don’t realize or care that it’s THEM. It should be considered how one’s lifestyle, habits and behavior is not suited for living in apartments, especially if above others.

An offender should be given notices if they are disturbing others and then addressed if not complying. There is something wrong in the entire housing situation from what I see with many being disrupted and some not being taught to be considerate, which is the real problem.

Fabrizio Pelliccione August 30, 2019 at 10:44 am

It’s unbelievable that the noise is not considered by any contract.
This is my situation with the above tenants:
– when they walk the floor creaks
– deaf noises are generated that cannot be isolated even with ear plugs
– I distinctly hear all the doors slammed and their laughs
– I’m trying to sleep in the small bedroom but without great results, it’s under their kitchen
– the situation is worse in the main bedroom that is under their living room
– the noises are heard throughout the house but, of course, when I’m in the kitchen, I gladly stand them but I can’t get over it when I’m in bed
– the floor also creaks in my apartment but the tenant under my apartment never said anything to me.
– also I can hear noises likes moving furniture in the evening and late night

I have several audio recordings to prove the facts.

My personal opinion leads me to wonder how can a person walk back and forth into a small apartment all evening and late night. But obviously I can’t change anyone’s habits. I don’t want to ask them “please don’t walk after 10pm”. Sometimes I can herd them walking heavily after 2 am and also before 6 am!

I asked the agency many times to solve this situation but the situation is not solved at all.

What I have to say to the landord? That I am paying 1400 euro/month for a noisy apartment?

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