What Constitutes a Noise Violation?

It goes without saying that noise has become a serious public health problem globally. In fact, the frequency of noise complaints has considerably grown over the past couple of years, and it’s easy to see why. Noise is not only annoying, but it can also cause psychological stress and, at high enough levels, it can even damage hearing.

That’s why it’s vital to understand your local laws and regulations regarding noise violations. After all, how could you contact the authorities regarding a noisy neighbor if you are not sure what constitutes a noise violation?

What Is a Noise Violation?

Generally speaking, a noise violation occurs when sound exceeds specific limits, with consideration of time, location, and circumstances. This only applies to sounds that are disruptive to the use and enjoyment of a residential property. The acceptable decibel levels are measured at the property line of the commercial or residential location that generates the sound.

While the specific dB threshold varies from state to state, there are some generally accepted noise levels that you can refer to:

  • 85 dB Sunday through Thursday between 8 AM and 9 PM
  • 60 dB Sunday through Thursday between 9 PM and 2 AM
  • 85 dB Friday or Saturday between 8 AM and 11 PM
  • 60 dB Friday or Saturday between 11 PM and 2 AM

See also: How Late Can You Play Loud Music?

Definitions Used

To understand what constitutes a noise violation, you need to learn more about the definitions used by local laws and regulations. That’s because most comprehensive noise ordinances refer to them when describing noise violations:

  • Subjective Emission regulations allow officials to decide if the noise generated by a sound source is acceptable without the presence of a specific listener and without recourse to sound measurements. For instance, you can think of regulations that involve plainly audible terms on public property.
  • Subjective Immission regulations allow officials to decide if the sound received by a listener is acceptable without regard to the sound power generated by the source or recourse to sound measurements. Regulations that feature noise disturbance limitations on private property as a requirement are examples of subjective immission.
  • Objective Emission regulations call for an official to measure the output of the sound source in order to find out if it is acceptable without the presence of a listener. Think of regulations that include maximum sound output levels for motor vehicles.
  • Objective Immission regulations call for an official to measure the sound received by a listener without having to check the sound of the source initially. Some good examples of objective immission are regulations that involve maximum allowable sound levels on property lines.

Types of Noise Violations

It’s important to understand that noise violations vary from state to state, depending on laws and regulations. That’s why it’s advised to check with your local law enforcement before reporting a possible noise violation. However, there are a few general noise violations that apply to most, if not all, states.

Air Conditioning, Heating, and Pool Equipment

This type of noise violation applies to residential zones like homes, apartments, and condominiums and follows the subjective immission rule set.

In other words, an official will evaluate the noise disturbance at the listener’s location without using a sound level meter. If the noise level is considerably higher than expected, the official will also check the units producing the sound to see if they meet the maximum permissible sound levels. Then, they can advise the owner to place the units away from other residential locations, e.g., on the roof.


Animal noise violations often refer to barking dogs and use the subjective immission control rules. They also involve a specific condition called the upper time limit for ongoing sounds.

For instance, in New Jersey, dog barking is considered a noise violation if it’s constant for more than 5 minutes or intermittent for at least 20 minutes. However, if the animal has been provoked, the owner can use that fact as a defense and may avoid legal consequences.

If you want to know which pets are the quietest, I’ve written all you need to know in a previous article.

Domestic and Commercials Power Tools

Similar to animal noise, domestic and commercial power tools are considered noise violations under the subjective immission control rules. These regulations focus on residential zones as well as commercial areas that are close to residential locations.

However, each state handles this noise violation differently. As an example, Portland separates indoor and outdoor use to different maximum noise levels at the property line. They also include a night curfew, during which no one should use high-powered tools.

Loading and Unloading Operations

Depending on which state you live in, loading and unloading operations can be under subjective immission control. That’s because operations in commercial facilities and housing areas can affect adjacent residential zones. As a result, Los Angeles places a curfew on such activities between 10 PM and 7 AM if the sound source is within 200 feet of a resident. In contrast, Hammond forbids all loading and unloading operations that create noise disturbances between 7 PM and 7 AM.

Apartments and Condominiums

Some states have pretty restrictive laws regarding noise in apartment buildings and condominiums. These are often regulated by subjective immission control, which aims to limit the noise problems between living units. The main criterion used to evaluate the noise violation is plainly audible. Simply put, the government official will need to check the apartment that reported the noise instead of the source itself.

Yet, in some particular circumstances, the authorities will have to use noise measurement equipment. For example, in Charlotte, the indoor sound levels are limited to 55 dB between 9 AM and 9 PM. Thus, the official must use special devices to determine if the noise is within the specified threshold.

It’s also worth noting that in some cities, specifically New York City, the apartment-to-apartment noise issue is based on the average living situation. Since most people live either above, below, or right next to other residents, all NYC building codes require the acoustic isolation of units. So, the appointed official also needs to check if the residence follows building regulations before issuing any warnings or citations to a possible noise source.

To Sum It Up

Understanding noise violations might indeed feel like an overwhelming task. After all, there are dozens of unique situations and regulations that you need to consider. However, with the help of this article, you too can be one step closer to knowing all about noise violations.

And remember that you can always look up your local laws and regulations or contact your authorities if you need more help.


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