Noise Complaints: What can a Tenant do About Excessive and Continuous Noise Distrubances

Are tenants entitled to live in an apartment free from constant loud noise?

Excessive continuous noise can impact a person’s health and well-being. Implied in all California leases is a covenant of “quiet enjoyment”. CAL. CIV. CODE § 1927. Landlords have a duty to ensure that tenants can peaceful possess their rental unit free of disturbances, and in extreme cases may take steps to evict bothersome tenants to abate a nuisance. Davis v. Gomez, 207 Cal. App. 3d 1401, 1404 (1989).

What should a tenant do if another tenant in the building is making noise?

Tenants should first make an attempt to resolve noise issues between themselves. If they cannot work out a compromise on their own, and the noise is excessive and continuous, the landlord should be notified. The tenant should provide the landlord with documentation of the noise, including any written requests to the disturbing tenant to stop, recordings, witness statements, and copies of complaints made to local noise regulation enforcement agencies.

Lease agreements usually contain a nuisance clause that makes it a material breach of the lease if a tenant disturbs or annoys other tenants in the building. The landlord has a duty to all tenants in the building to enforce the lease against the offending tenant and must take all steps necessary, including eviction, to abate the nuisance. A nuisance is a just cause for eviction in rent-controlled jurisdictions such as the City of San Francisco, the City of Berkeley, the City of Oakland, and the City of San Jose.

What can a tenant do if the noise is coming from a neighboring building?

While landlords have a duty to their tenants to abate nuisances in their buildings, the landlord does not control tenants in neighboring buildings or owners of other properties. If a compromise cannot be worked out between neighbors, the tenant should call the appropriate noise abatement enforcement agency to file a complaint. There may be several different agencies that handle a noise complaint depending on what city the tenant resides in and what local ordinance is being violated.

The California Noise Control Act of 1973 gave cities and communities the power to set their own noise ordinances and to determine their own agencies for enforcing the ordinances. For example, in the City of San Francisco noise regulation, control, and prevention is the joint responsibility of the Department of Public Health, the Police Department, the Department of Building Inspection, the Department of Public Works, the Department of City Planning, the Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Entertainment Commission. S.F., CAL., POLICE CODE § 2916.

Jurisdictions such as the City of San Francisco, the City of Oakland, the City of Berkeley, and the City of San Jose will cite and fine those who violate noise ordinances. Read below for specific common noise regulations.

What is the law regarding loud noise at night inside residential properties?

In the City of San Francisco, loud noise is prohibited inside all residential properties between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. S.F., CAL., POLICE CODE § 2909. A residential property means “any property that has at least one dwelling unit and has been approved for human habitation by the City and County of San Francisco.” S.F., CAL., POLICE CODE § 2901. Anything above 45 decibels of sound during these hours will be considered excessive and in violation of the ordinance. Id. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a whisper falls around 40 decibels (heard from 5 ft. away) and the sound of normal conversation is about 60 decibels (heard from 3 ft. away). If a tenant in the apartment above you is practicing their guitar at 1:00 a.m., they are likely in violation of the San Francisco noise ordinance.

The City of Berkeley makes it unlawful for a person “to willfully or negligently make or continue, or cause to be made or continued, any loud, unnecessary, or unusual noise which disturbs the peace and quiet of any neighborhood or which causes any discomfort or annoyance to any reasonable person of normal sensitiveness residing in the area” between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. BERKELEY, CAL., MUN. CODE §§ 13.40.030–13.40.060.

The City of Oakland has a similar noise ordinance that prohibits “excessive and annoying noise” between 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. OAKLAND, CAL., MUN. CODE §§ 8.18.010–8.18.020.

The San Jose Police Department confirms that there are no designated quiet hours in the City of San Jose, but the city does have a noise ordinance that makes it a violation for a person to “disturb the peace, quiet and comfort of any neighborhood by creating therein any disturbing or unreasonably loud noise.” SAN JOSE, CAL., MUN. CODE § 10.16.010.

What is the law regarding the volume of a neighbor’s television or radio?

The City of San Francisco also regulates noise that can be heard outside of a residential property. Televisions, radios, record players, musical instruments, and other machines and devices may not be operated if it can be heard beyond 50 feet from the property line between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. S.F., CAL., POLICE CODE § 49.

The City of Berkeley also similarly regulates the volume of televisions, radios, musical instruments, and other mechanical devices. BERKELEY, CAL., MUN. CODE § 13.40.070.

The City of Oakland prohibits the sound from any mechanical or electronic device that disturbs the peace. OAKLAND, CAL., MUN. CODE § 8.18.010.

The City of San Jose designates “the playing or operating of any radio, phonograph, orchestra or other musical device or instrument in a manner that is disturbing or unreasonably loud to a reasonable person outside the facility or unit from which the noise emanates” as noise which is prohibited. SAN JOSE, CAL., MUN. CODE § 10.16.020.

Is there a law that prohibits the constant barking of a neighbor’s dog?

A common noise complaint from tenants is that their neighbor’s dog continuously barks. In the City of San Francisco, a barking dog is defined as “a dog that barks, bays, cries, howls or makes any other noise continuously and incessantly for a period of 10 minutes to the disturbance of any other person.” S.F., CAL., HEALTH CODE § 41. Animal owners and guardians have a duty to abate any nuisance created by their dog. S.F., CAL., HEALTH CODE § 41.12. Maintaining a barking dog on the premises is a violation of the ordinance. Id. If two unrelated people that live within 300 feet of the offending dog sign a complaint about the noise disturbance, the owner may be cited by the San Francisco Police and fined up to $500.00. S.F., CAL., HEALTH CODE § 2.
In the City of Berkeley, it is unlawful for an animal owner to annoy or disturb others by allowing their dog to continuously bark for ten minutes or intermittently for thirty minutes. BERKELEY, CAL., MUN. CODE § 13.40.070.

The City of Oakland also regulates “annoying noise” which includes barking dogs. OAKLAND, CAL., MUN. CODE § 8.18.010.
In the City of San Jose, animal owners must not allow their dogs to “habitually disturb the peace and quietude of any neighborhood or person, by howling, barking, crying, baying, or making any other noise.” SAN JOSE, CAL., MUN. CODE § 7.40.010.
Can I sue my neighbor for making noise?

A tenant may have a case for nuisance against the offending tenant or neighbor. A nuisance is “anything which is injurious to health, including but not limited to the illegal sale of controlled substances, or is indecent or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property.” CAL. CIV. CODE § 3479. Constant excessive noise can be a nuisance.

Before bringing a lawsuit, the tenant should work with their landlord and any local agencies that are responsible for enforcing noise regulations. If there is no resolution, the tenant should consider bringing a case against the offending neighbor. Even if the court does not order the disturbance to stop, making a noisy neighbor pay a money judgment may be effective in resolving the disturbance.

If you are considering a lawsuit, you should immediately consult with an experienced tenant rights lawyer.

Can I sue my landlord because of a noisy tenant in my building?

A continuous and excessive noise disturbance may be so great that it interferes with a tenant’s quiet enjoyment. Although the noise may be caused by another tenant in the building and not by the landlord, the landlord may be held accountable if after being notified of the disturbance they take no action against the offending tenant. Landlords have a duty to ensure that tenants can peaceful possess their rental unit free of disturbances, and in extreme cases may take steps to evict bothersome tenants to abate a nuisance. Davis v. Gomez, 207 Cal. App. 3d 1401, 1404 (1989).

A tenant may wish to remain in their unit and sue the landlord for breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. Or, when constant noise is so substantial to the point that the tenant must move out of the apartment, the tenant may bring a lawsuit against the landlord for constructive eviction.

If you have been wrongfully evicted or constructively evicted from your unit and are considering filing a lawsuit against your landlord, you should immediately consult with the experienced tenant attorneys at Tobener Ravenscroft to discuss your options.

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