I have been on both the landlord’s side and on the tenant’s side in my 27 years of practicing property management law. Since 1998, I have helped on-site property managers and others with noise complaints between tenants. Noise complaints are known to elicit groans, because unreasonable or excessive noise may be hard to define. The purpose of this short article is to give landlords and on-site property managers a toolkit.
First, when a tenant makes a complaint about a neighbor’s noise level, determine if the claim is valid. People living in a multifamily setting reasonably must expect some noise yet have a right to be free from excessive or unreasonable noise especially at night (this is usually called the right to quiet enjoyment). Ask your tenant if s/he has kept a written log, has recording(s) of the noise, and/or if s/he has used an app on a smartphone for recording decibel levels. If the tenant does not have a written log, ask the tenant to maintain one to assess if there is a pattern.
I am in Ohio, and the Ohio Landlord/Tenant Act governs a tenant’s and landlord’s duties. The best practice (and best way to save money in the long term) is to investigate the tenant’s complaint independently. Do you or an employee observe the noise? Are there any law enforcement reports you can obtain? If the noise observed is unreasonable and/or excessive, determine whether to initially send a lighter-in-tone letter to the noise offender or a state or locally required notice to cure (especially if the noise is severe or follows a pattern especially at night). In Ohio, landlords send an Ohio Revised Code Section 5321.11 notice to cure in 30 days. In Ohio, the notice is generally required to terminate the tenancy of the noise offender; check your state’s laws. If the noise offender has a Housing Choice Voucher, receives HUD housing assistance, or otherwise lives in affordable housing, be sure to follow any additional federal requirements.
If the noise offender will not stop after the “cure period” in your state/locality by continuing to make the unreasonable or excessive noise, you may terminate the tenancy by not renewing the lease when it expires (unless federal housing program regulations prohibit that) or by filing an eviction lawsuit. You may also ask the noise offender to “mutually terminate the lease” to avoid litigation; this may be more cost-effective and you may decide to waive any rent monies left under the lease. To win in court, the landlord will need witnesses and other evidence (such as logs, recordings, police reports, etc.).
Noise complaints need not elicit exasperation. This is general guidance only and not meant to apply in all circumstances you may encounter. Instead of letting a noise complaint rile you, have an “investigation and cure” process in place that you follow with all tenants. Seek the advice and guidance of an experienced property management lawyer. Keep calm and keep good tenants, too.