Do Noisy Neighbors Define the Quality of Your Life?
As the old saying goes, good fences make good neighbors. Unfortunately, life with noisy neighbors is more complicated than that. Is the fence on the right side of the property line? Are there any overhanging branches or roots sneaking under the fence? Is there a dog barking constantly, or at odd hours behind that fence?
“Neighbors really define your quality of life,” says Emily Doskow, a lawyer and co-author of “Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise” (1991, updated 2011, Nolo). Living with a noisy neighbor can be incredibly wearing and turn a peaceful community into a battleground.
Additionally, with more people working from home today, daytime sounds that may once have gone unnoticed can create high levels of tension.
In most suburban neighborhoods, barking dogs are the worst noise offenders. Craig Mixon, a Northern California homeowner, became so bothered by barking dogs in the neighborhood that he started barkingdogs.net, a web site that offer resources for others who are dealing with the same problem.
Mixon, a master dog trainer, tried talking to neighbors who owned the offending dogs, even offering to train the dogs for them. Nothing worked.
Regulations about barking dogs or other noise from neighbors vary according to town. In some cases, they are covered by noise laws, in others by nuisance laws.
Once-friendly neighbor relationships can be torn apart by noisy dogs. In Mixon’s community, one neighbor put their dogs outside, often all day, in a lawn surrounded by an invisible fence, which offered no noise barrier when the dogs began barking. Several neighbors approached the dog owners gently to ask that something be done, to no avail.
One neighbor did call town officials to see what could be done, but was told that noise laws applied from dusk to dawn, which may work in the winter, but not so well in the summer when days are long and nights are short. And she didn’t feel comfortable complaining because the town would take complaints only from people who gave their names.
“Towns need to have better dog laws,” she said.
In some communities, animal control does not address neighbors’ disputes over barking dogs. Ordinances usually cover only licensing, what type of animals you have (no pigs or roosters, for instance), leash requirements and the like.
While power tools and machinery are allowed on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. and on weekends and holidays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (with the exception of emergencies) barking dogs usually fall under the unnecessary noise regulation in suburban/residential communities. In other words, noise that menaces the health or disturb the peace and quiet are prohibited any time of the day or night.
In some communities, fed-up neighbors are getting creative when it comes to taking matters into their own hands (legally). Barking Dog Atlas, (http://barkingdogatlas.blogspot.com/) for instance, is a website created by one fed up homeowner that invites people all over the U.S. to anonymously post a photo, video link, and the offending neighbor’s name and address
Of course, as the first step in any neighborly problem, it may help to either speak (nicely) to the neighbor or, to avoid discussing it directly, leave a pleasant note. This may seem obvious, but too many people lose their temper right away. Try to give the neighbor the benefit of the doubt, even if it seems ridiculous. Try and assume everyone wants to be as good a neighbor as you are.
The second step would be a note or call stating that the intention is to work the problem out with the neighbor directly. Heavy-handed threats of calling the police or animal control should be last options, when all else fails.
Suggesting mediation is also an option. Community mediators are available in most towns, and often the police know how to contact them.
Finally, if there is still no response from the offenders, a warning should be issued to the neighbor that you will go to small claims court or seek redress elsewhere. The trouble is, it’s often not easy to prove, or get the authorities to resolve the problem.
“Some noise laws are distance-based and some are decibel-based,” says Les Blomberg, director of the nonprofit group Noise Pollution Clearinghouse. “Ideally, noise regulations should set a clear line for neighbors — this is allowed, this isn’t.”
But often that isn’t the case.
Sometimes the best route may be a path of least resistance. A noise barrier fence or sound deadening material strategically placed in the yard or home can save a homeowner months or even years of turmoil with a noisy neighbor, provide the peace and privacy that everyone seeks in their home environment, and maintain some semblance of peace with the neighbors.