Taking Noise Nuisances Into Your Own Hands
How to deal with noisy neighbors in California when reason and police intervention aren’t helpingBy Benjy Schirm, J.D. | Last updated on January 27, 2023
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Local ActionsArm yourself with your municipal and county ordinances on excessive noise. Most cities have rules on when one can operate machinery, play loud music and engage in other noisy activities. Some may detail acceptable noise levels, as well as quiet hours. Engaging your neighbor, either in person or through other means, is always an advisable option. Focusing on the noice ordinances rather than one’s personal needs is often a less confrontational way to deal with a noise control issue—especially if it’s a continual problem rather than a one-time event. Perhaps your neighbor doesn’t know that they are being disruptive and this conversation will fix the problem. If communicating doesn’t curb the loud noise, a warning from law enforcement might be worthwhile. Police will often stop the problem for the moment with a warning that they received a call about a noise problem, but repeated offenses may result in citations or even arrests if things get out of hand. “Often people can prove the noise and that the ordinance is violated, but they aren’t able to get the enforcement agencies and law enforcement to do anything,” says Artin Gholian, a real estate attorney in Studio City.
MediationOne of the most effective conflict-resolution techniques is mediation, a process in which trained attorneys can facilitate a compromise between parties. It is successful around 60 percent of the time with the participants generally satisfied with the process. Be certain that you find and hire an experienced mediator who can organize and coordinate the logistics of getting both neighbors to the table to resolve differences. Some neighborhoods and municipalities also have mediation programs in coordination with local law schools or firms. This can be especially effective with types of noises such as a barking dog, where the owner doesn’t see a clear way to fix the situation. Mediation allows for both parties to be heard in an interactive model of cooperative conflict resolution. This would be preferable to the win-lose nature of, say, the court system.
Small Claims and Civil LawsuitsIf the noise continues after the steps above, small claims court is an option. A noise complaint would be considered a nuisance suit. One would want to accumulate as many records and documentation of noise incidents to bolster their claim. Unfortunately, attorneys aren’t always allowed in small claims matters. “If homeowners must avail themselves to the civil process to stop a noise nuisance, they will have a challenging process ahead,” Gholian says. “They have the burden of proof to show every element of a claim has been met. If they do prove it, they may receive injunctive relief through an order and the sound may abate for a bit. But then, even with an order in place, there’s the burden of enforcing it.” Enforcing an order from a judge involves getting law enforcement involved once again. Perhaps they will be more helpful with a court order in place, but Gholian says that’s a rare occurrence. If you have a noise issue, “Document everything: pictures, video, audio, record everything. Hire an expert, and document, document, document. It’s your burden of proof,” he adds. “In a dog barking case, my client documented every single dog bark and even still they had trouble enforcing after receiving an order from the judge.” A nuisance claim can be tricky to navigate, be sure to contact a reputable civil litigator to be your guide through the thicket.
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