by Mark Wellborn

City dwellers have come to expect (and accept) a certain level of noise during their day-to-day lives, however sometimes there is still noise (when too loud or too late) that is disruptive.

Noise disturbances have been an issue in DC for decades, and the city recently upped the ante in terms of enforcement when the Disorderly Conduct Amendment Act of 2010 went into effect this past February. The amendment in part states that “it is unlawful for a person to make an unreasonably loud noise between 10:00pm and 7:00am that is likely to annoy or disturb one or more persons in their residences.” The maximum penalties — 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine — are rather severe.

DC regulations distinguish excessive noise into three general categories. The first group are generally allowed “to be loud” at any time of day or night (e.g. railroad cars, emergency vehicles, public address systems, church bells, an umamplified voice). The second group are regulated not by their noise level, but are limited to certain times of day (weekday daytime hours and from 9am to 9pm on weekends and legal holidays). This usually includes power garden tools and tools for making improvements to personal property.

The third group of noises are the most regulated, and those that you will have the most success in stopping when they become too excessive. Examples in this group include musical instruments, stereos, mechanical equipment [i.e. air-conditioners, swimming pool equipment, fans], construction equipment, shouting vendors, and vehicle-mounted loudspeakers; these are regulated by volume, time of day and location.

Personally, I’m in favor of strong noise ordinances. This said, the new amendment seems problematic for two reasons.

The first problem is that DC regulations divides noise (as detailed above) into three groups, yet the new amendment seems to lay on top of all three of these groups. For second group, this amendment could cause some confusion as to what is acceptable times to create certain noises, and for the third group, the amendment shifts great weight to the “time” of the noise, where previously the regulation was a balance of volume, time and location of the noise.

The second problem is that one is left wondering “what happened” to measuring noise as an appropriate indicator of what is too loud. It is common for cities to have maximum decibel levels for acceptable noise and DC was no different in this regard. However the new amendment appears to strip this idea in favor of an undefined “unreasonably loud noise” level. One can see without too much imagination how one man’s unreasonably loud noise in another man’s “fun party.”

Knowing that noise issues will continue and that this new amendment will likely do little to curb disturbances to your sleep, the question remains, “What to do when the noise becomes too bothersome?”

My suggestion is to start with the more benign “neighborly tools” at your disposal and work upwards. If the noise is from a neighbor, knock on their door or leave them a note, bringing the problem to their attention. I recall in law school I temporarily sat my TV (“turned on”) on my living room floor while cleaning my apartment. What I didn’t know until the next day is that my putting the TV on the floor caused a of unnecessary noise for my downstairs neighbor.

If going directly to the source of the noise does not work (and you live in a condominium, cooperative or home owners association) try going to the manager or the board.

If the noise is excessively loud and/or late (i.e. loud party still going strong at 1:00am, call the police. The police can and will shut the party down. I live in a densely populated part of DC and I’ve had great success when calling the police for late parties. Their arrival on the scene always seems to have a chilling effect on the distributive party.

Several years ago I had a neighbor who had a dog who barked for hours and hours. I called DC Animal Control, they investigated and that was enough to change the dog owner’s routine.
If the noise comes from a nearby business, a call and letter (repeat as often as necessary) to the ABC Board (if they have a liquor license) and to the DC Consumer and Regulatory Affairs office requesting an inspector visit for loud noise disturbances will help. A call to your council member and the mayor’s office is worth the effort but don’t expect too much.

If the noise makers are tenants, contact the landlord. If the landlord ignores you, call the District and determine if the landlord has a business license for renting the house or apartment, and if they have a certificate of occupancy for the space. If they lack both or either, your ability to gain the landlord’s attention just increased markedly.

All in all, the best solution is to go directly to the noise maker and negotiate a solution. For instance, I negotiated an agreement that my neighbors would tell me a couple of weeks in advance of their next party, and that they would close the party down at midnight. With this plan in place, I planned accordingly, knowing that next Friday was not the night to stay home and
read a book. As with most neighbor issues, communication is the best tool. When that fails, call the police.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/noise/3286

DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We've collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!

Northern Virginia

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods across Northern Virginia

Looking to Give People A Reason to Stay Past 6pm
Happily Straddling the Line Between City and Suburb
Columbia Pike
Arlington’s Neglected Stepchild is Getting a Makeover
Crystal City
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Lyon Village
Developing An Air of Exclusivity?
Hitting Its Growth Spurt
An Urban Village Hitting Its Stride
Del Ray
Virginia’s Small Town Near the Big City
Eisenhower Avenue
The Vibrancy Might Take a Few Years
The Quiet Neighborhood By the Beltway
Old Town
Mayberry By The Potomac
132 Commerical-Free Acres
Downtown Falls Church
Staying the Same in the Midst of Change
Tysons Corner
Radical Change Could Be On The Way

See more Northern Virginia »


Profiles of 14 neighborhoods in suburban Maryland

Small-Town Living in the State Capital
Bedroom Community Gets Buzzing Cache
Cabin John
In With The New While Maintaining the Old
Chevy Chase
Affluence, Green Lawns and Pricey Homes
Downtown Silver Spring
Experiencing a Resurgence After a Bumpy History
A Suburb on Steroids
Rockville Town Square
Despite the Dynamism, Still Somewhat Generic
Takoma Park
More Than a Little Bit Quirky
A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change
Capitol Heights
Kudzu, Front Porches and Crime
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Mount Rainier
Artists, Affordable Homes and A Silo Full of Corn
National Harbor
A Development Rises Next to the Potomac
Riverdale Park
A Town Looking For Its Identity

See more Maryland »

Northwest DC

30+ neighborhood profiles for the city's biggest quadrant

16th Street Heights
DC's Sleeper Neighborhood
Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name
AU Park
One of DC’s Last Frontiers Before the Suburbs
DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp
DC’s 535 House Neighborhood
Cathedral Heights
Do You Know Where That Is?
Chevy Chase DC
Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase
Cleveland Park
Coming Back After A Rough Year
Columbia Heights
DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?
An Island of Serenity East of the Park
Dupont Circle
The Best of DC (For a Price)
Foggy Bottom & West End
Where the Institutional Meets the International
Forest Hills
Ambassadors and Adventurous Architecture
Foxhall Village
350 Homes Just West of Georgetown
Friendship Heights
A Shopping Mecca With a Few Places to Live
History, Hoyas and H&M
Glover Park
One of DC’s Preppier and More Family-Friendly Neighborhoods
A Posh View From Embassy Row
LeDroit Park
A Quiet Enclave in the Middle of the City
Logan Circle
Trendy Now, But Not By Accident
Mount Pleasant
Sought-After Homes Surround Main Street in Transition
Mount Vernon Triangle
From Seedy to Sought-After
The Long, Skinny Neighborhood at the City’s Northwest Edge
Park View
It’s Not Petworth
Penn Quarter/Chinatown
DC’s Go-Go-Go Neighborhood
Getting a Vibrancy of Its Own
The Duke’s Former Stomping Ground
Shepherd Park
DC’s Garden of Diversity
Spring Valley
A Suburb With a DC Zip Code
Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park
Not Quite Like Its Neighbors
U Street Corridor
The Difference a Decade Makes
Woodley Park
Deceptively Residential
Adams Morgan
No Longer DC’s Hippest Neighborhood, But Still Loved by Residents

See more Northwest DC »

Southwest DC

The little quadrant that could

Southwest Waterfront
A Neighborhood Where A Change Is Gonna Come

See more Southwest DC »

Northeast DC

Profiles of 10 neighborhoods in NE

New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace
A Little Bit of Country Just Inside the District’s Borders
Not to Be Confused With Bloomingdale
Fort Totten
Five Years Could Make a Big Difference
H Street
A Place To Party, and To Settle Down
The Northeast Neighborhood That Few Know About
Michigan Park
A Newsletter-On-Your-Doorstep Community
Evolving from a Brand to a Neighborhood
Ripe for Investment Right About Now
The Difference 5 Years Makes
Big Houses, A Dusty Commercial Strip and Potential

See more Northeast DC »

Southeast DC

6 neighborhoods from Capitol Hill to East of the River

Capitol Riverfront
Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

See more Southeast DC »

Upcoming Seminars ▾