Dealing with noisy neighbors

Dealing with noisy neighborsDealing with noisy neighbors can be tricky.  "Noisy" is subjective and every neighbor probably has a different view on how much noise is too much. If you live in an apartment, check this page out that specifically deals with noisy neighbors in an apartment complex.
Certainly, the kind of neighborhood you live in makes a big difference in how you handle the issue.  How large is the space between houses?  What is the general consensus on activities that are/are not acceptable for homeowners to do.  For instance, if your neighbor's main source of noise is from working on their car or motorcycles, would the majority of your neighbors agree that it's ok to do that work at home?  The full solution isn't about consensus; but the opinion that your neighbors hold about you in the event that you have to take action greatly depends on this consensus.  
First, you need to know if there is an understandable need for the noise?  In some cases, your neighbor may be making noise due to their profession- a musician, or a craftsman that requires loud tools.  There may need to be a compromise that involves tolerating the noise during reasonable time frames (ex. before 8pm).  Understanding your neighbor's need may be the first step towards resolving the issue without conflict.

Talking to your neighbor about the issue.
It’s likely an uncomfortable thing to do, but talking to your neighbor about the situation is usually the best start and often resolves the situation completely without need for further escalation or expense.

When should you NOT have the discussion?
If your neighbor has a history of overreacting, volatility and especially reacting with violence or retaliation; you should reconsider trying to interact with them one-on-one about the issue. With neighbors like this (or similarly negative personality traits), you should trust your instincts.
Why you SHOULD have the discussion.
Most people, however, prefer to have an issue brought to them directly first. Not giving them a chance to respond to your concern before escalating can permanently damage the relationship between you.  At times, skipping this step can create a permanently adversarial relationship that can escalate over the years. Even if the initial conversation isn’t effective in resolving the issue, giving the person a chance to resolve it before any escalation is the right thing to do and can help you avoid future issues with just a conversation (because they know that you will escalate), and will help your other neighbors understand that you are just interested in resolving the issue and not “that neighbor” who calls the police or an attorney at the drop of a hat.
How to have an effective discussion with your neighbor.
Try role reversal.  If the roles were reversed and your neighbor had to talk with you, how would you prefer they handle it with you? In every part of this discussion with your neighbor, you need to keep your focus on resolving the issue with the least amount of conflict possible.
Make sure you aren’t over-exaggerating the issue.
Be sure that the issue at hand is worth the potential bad feelings it can create with your neighbor. Assuming that it is, ensure that you have the right perspective on how sefrious the issue is. Does it cause you and your family harm? Does it cost you money? Does it reduce property values? Is it a matter of mutual respect? You should have clear reasons why you feel it is a problem and be able to concisely state them in the conversation.
Non-aggressive setting.
If you feel comfortable enough with the neighbor, invite them over for a drink or dinner. Let them know that you want to have a friendly conversation about something; but make it a little social. The action and your words in the conversation need to show them that you care about your relationship and simply want to resolve the issue at hand.
Assume that they are unaware of the problem.
Often, conversations between neighbors can be strained because there is an assumption that the offending neighbor is intentionally creating a problem; when they are, in fact, unaware that what they are doing is an issue. Bringing it to their attention without asserting malicious intent can often lead to a faster resolution and a better relationship going forward.
Know the rules for your Home Owners Association
If you have a HOA, there are likely rules outlining both sanctioned and forbidden acitivies as well as noise levels after a certain time of day.  You should be able to cite the part of the HOA rules that specifically deals with noise.  It's very possible that your neighbor forgot about the rules or never actually read it to understand that they agreed to expectations when it comes to noise.
Avoid one-ups-man-ship.
The conversation is about finding a resolution, not winning an argument. Do not engage in tit-for-tat responses or allow yourself to be pulled into unrelated conversations about other issues.
Once you get agreement, stop.
Particularly if they agree rather quickly in the conversation to correct the issue, be sure to not drone on about it. Thank them for understanding and move on to other unrelated, more pleasant conversation- only returning back to the topic if they do.
If the discussion with your neighbor doesn’t yield results, you will need to consider your options for escalating to the next steps.

Contact your neighbor in writing.
The first escalation should be to formalize your request in writing. Be polite but direct about what you want them to stop doing. Reference the section of the lease agreement- if applicable- as well as the original verbal conversation and the date you had it.  Ensure that the date you are sending the letter is noted on the letter itself. Keep a copy of the exact letter sent to your neighbor.

Contacting your HOA
The next step escalation is to your HOA.  If you don't have an HOA, move on to the next step.  HOA boards are different, some will address the issue with their tenant head on and others will be more conflict adverse.  
On first contact with the HOA, it's helpful to explain what you have already tried to do to resolve the issue.  This helps avoid the assumption that you are "the complaining type" and that you really just need it to be resolved.  
Obtaining evidence of the infractions
Regardless of whether you are contacting your HOA or escalating the issues to a higher authority, you will want to avoid a, “your word against theirs” situation by collecting empirical, irrefutable evidence of the issue.
Firstly, you need to keep a log of your neighbor’s behavior(s). This can be done electronically or on paper.
The key is to try to remove as much subjectivity from the equation as possible.  The best way to do this is to have a decibel meter and record the situation with your phone or other video recording device.  Be sure to say the date and time and have the camera pointed at the decibel meter so the readings are clearly noted on recording.
Here are some examples of decibel metering devices with various features:
Contacting the Police.
The next escalation will need to be to the police.  Most cities have laws that regulate noise that neighbors can make.  It's important that you understand the laws and are able to cite them to the police department when contacting them. 
City ordinances are usually posted on the city’s website. Use this tool: to find your city’s website. for municipalities.


Let them know that what kind of evidence you have (logs, decibel readings, recordings...etc.) you have this evidence and can provide it to them.  Police are often disinterested in pursuing these kinds of infractions because they are so difficult to prove.  Presenting this kind of evidence puts them in a place where they can confidently pursue the issue and it puts a bit of pressure on them as it's a clear violation of law (not subjective) and they are obligated to deal with it. 
It should be noted that the police departments in most cities are very busy solving much more important crime.  You should only escalate to the police department as a last resort and be respectful of their time if you do.  Even the empathetic police officers will need to minimize how much time they spend with you, your neighbor and your landlord- and be appreciative that this is not their top priority.
Seeking legal advice.
Lastly, you should consider seeking out legal advice from an attorney that specializes in this area of the law. For this scenario, it’s likely that a Property Attorney would be the best choice. Your attorney can begin with a letter from their office on your behalf demanding that they regard the property boundaries. They can also help to submit a restraining order requiring your neighbor to remain outside of the boundary lines of your property.
Things to try in YOUR home
Throughout the entire ordeal, you will need to ask (and re-ask) yourself if the issues are worth the conflict and effort required to resolve it.  Overall, the answer is probably "Yes" if you have read this far!  If the noise becomes lower but still irritating (or even just while you wait to find resolution with your neighbors), there are some things you can try on your side of the wall to mitigate the issue:
Add some noise cancelling landscaping
Depending on the layout of your property, there may be an option to add some landscaping features between you and your noisy neighbor that could significantly reduce the net noise you hear.  Stone tiering walls, waterfalls, row of pine trees....etc. could cut the sound getting to the exterior walls of your home by as much as half.
Sound proofing your adjoining wall.
If the noise is coming from a single direction and particularly only affecting one the room/rooms closest to that neighbor, the walls are simply not absorbing enough of the noise.  Of course, there is a level of noise that no product can absorb, but using some combination of the following can reduce 20db+ decibels of sound coming from that wall:


Soundproofing your door.
Often, the most noise come through a door- particularly glass doors.  It's best to insulate it on the side of the door with foam, then trim to cover it up.  If not, you should be allowed to use adhesive based weatherstripping on the inside of your door jambs- the kind that can be removed at a later date with a razor blade.  Here are a few examples:
Noise Canceling Headphones.
If you can't stop all of the noise from coming in, you can cancel it!  This can be a great ption if you live alone or if the noise issues seemed to only be focused at certain times.  There is a wide degree of noise cancellation quality- depending on how big of an issue you have to deal with- and a corresponding price for quality.  Here are a few of the best examples of each type:
White Noise Machines.
Particularly if your neighbor's noise just above your threshold of irritation, white noise machines can be very helpful in restoring a sense of tranquility and privacy back to your home.  Here are a few options:


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