How should landlords deal with noise complaints, what is an acceptable level of noise, and when should a landlord intervene?
Noise complaints are a common issue that landlords have to deal with. And they can be particularly tricky to resolve. While all tenants have a right to the “quiet enjoyment” of their rental, what this means can vary. Obviously, neighbors are allowed to make some noise in their home and landlords can’t address noise complaints they have no control over.
To make matters even more complex, there aren’t any specific laws addressing the types of noise and what is and isn’t acceptable – for example, building hours and guest policies. If these details aren’t mentioned in the lease, then the landlord and tenant will have to mutually agree and it can be difficult for the landlord to enforce.
The term quiet enjoyment is referencing the tenants’ right to live in and use the rental property undisturbed by neighbors or landlords. It is implicit in all rental leases even when not specifically stated. However, many landlords choose to outline specifics in their leases, such as limiting the number of guests that can come over at any one time or stay the night.
Having a right to quiet enjoyment does not mean that the tenant has the right to complete silence. People make noise, and this noise can easily leak through walls or floors. This is especially the case if they are living in an apartment or house of multiple occupancies (HMO) such as a duplex or triplex where there are shared internal walls.
However, there is a difference between normal noise and excessive noise. Normal noise accompanies everyday activities, walking, talking, cooking, closing doors, watching T.V., or even playing music. Excessive noise though is constant loud noises above and beyond the normal levels. For example, playing music constantly at full volume or late into the night, or the noise from parties.
Determining if a tenant is making a justifiable complaint is a challenge. And complaints about normal noise — like loud footsteps from an upstairs neighbor — are going to be hard for a landlord to put a stop to. Landlords should take all new complaints seriously and investigate further when possible, additionally, they should keep a record of all complaints.
On a final note, it’s worth considering those individuals that are more susceptible to loud noises or who might be worse affected and look for easy resolutions to help improve tenant satisfaction and retention.
If the noise becomes a problem and a tenant feels that their right to quiet enjoyment is being violated, it’s typically up to them to take the first steps in addressing the problem. There are a few things a tenant can do.
Document the issue: The very first thing to do is for them to document the noise, what is happening, and how often. The more detail they can provide on the issue the better. This allows them to put together a reasonable case to persuade the landlord that the noise is excessive
Talk with the neighbor directly: The best-case scenario is that the neighbor apologizes and the issue never reoccurs, perhaps they didn’t realize they were being particularly loud. However, not all tenants will feel comfortable approaching their neighbors and if done wrong, ie. in the heat of the moment it could create a hostile environment for both sets of tenants.
Ask for help from their landlord: If they’ve approached the neighbor and the noise problem continues to be an issue then the tenant should reach out to the landlord for help in writing. Some leases will have a specific noise clause.
Call the police: If the issue persists and the landlord fails to address it, tenants may want to get the police involved.
Move out: If nothing they do works then the only option left is for them to move. As a landlord, this is less than ideal. Tenants may be within their rights to break with the lease if the noise is truly an excessive problem and the landlord has not addressed it.
It’s a landlord’s responsibility to address noise complaints in their rental properties. As mentioned earlier, tenants have a right to quiet enjoyment, and there can be financial repercussions for a landlord who neglects to address excessive noise. That said, landlords can only deal with the noise they can control, and they’ll have to make decisions about whether the noise is actually “excessive” or not.
Identify the noise: After receiving a complaint from a tenant landlords should investigate further to determine what the cause of the noise is and whether it’s something they can and need to address. In some cases, a tenant may be overly sensitive to noise in their unit, even if it’s normal everyday noise from a neighbor.
Inform the tenant: Once a tenant brings a noise complaint to a landlords’ attention, the landlord needs to inform the tenant who’s causing the noise that a complaint has been filed against them. For a landlord to be able to take action they need written documentation of a recurring noise problem and documentation of having notified the tenant causing the noise.
Have a clause in the lease: Since there are no concrete laws surrounding noise violations, the best way a landlord can enforce noise regulations is by having them clearly stated in the lease. Outlining specific quiet hours or limiting the number of overnight guests allowed in a unit can help set guidelines for tenants and give a landlord something to reference in the event of a noise issue.
Take action: A landlord should address a tenant’s noise concerns, even if the landlord doesn’t think the noise is necessarily excessive or a violation. The landlord needs to be able to demonstrate they’ve taken steps to resolve the issue, especially if further action needs to be taken.
If a tenant is still being disturbed by noise and the landlord is unable to eliminate it, the landlord might decide to take action to keep them from moving out, such as a minor rent reduction. The landlord can also take measures to evict the tenant who is causing noise issues.
Landlords need to act professionally and take all new noise complaints seriously. This is vital to help maintain a good working relationship between landlords and tenants. Not doing so could see a tenant quickly become dissatisfied with their rental position and start looking for alternative options such as a new place to live.
That being said, not all issues can be resolved easily so landlords should also ensure that they clearly communicate all actions that have been taken and safely store these communications for future reference.