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Noise Complaints: When should a landlord get involved? 

Noise complaints are incredibly common in apartment living. I was recently interviewed for a Washington Post article regarding how tenants can deal with noise issues. You can read it here: http://m.washingtonpost.com/express/wp/2013/12/06/keep-it-down-will-ya/.

But what should landlords do when tenants complain about other tenants? Determining what's reasonable and what's not can be difficult. As the landlord you usually aren't around to hear the noisy TV at 3am or banging door every morning at 6am. These kinds of neighbor disputes are usually best left to the tenants.

If a tenant is having loud parties every weekend, having verbal fights with family members or friends that result in the police being called regularly, or holding band practice in their apartment every night, it's time to get involved.

If you suspect the noise is the result of domestic or child abuse, contact the police or Child and Family Services. If you suspect animal abuse or neglect contact the Washington Humane Society.

Assuming its something more annoying than dangerous, give a written warning, or a few, and try to discuss the issue with the tenant. Recommend the other tenants contact the police when the problems occur and get a report whenever possible.

If it can't be resolved make sure the tenants bothered by the noise understand that you will need their support to win a court case to evict the noisy tenant. If they don't want to get involved and no damage is being caused there isn't much you can do. If the other tenants are on board, consider having the tenant served with a notice to cure or quit.

This can be a technical legal process and any mistakes will destroy your case so get help of you are unsure about anything that needs to be done. I've talked previously about what a notice to quit must include so I won't rehash that here.

Often noise problems come and go. Tenants try to quiet down when told and then the noise level rises again over time. Keep an eye on things. You want your other tenants to be happy and comfortable.

But what if the noise is caused by you? What if you need to do construction in one unit and the tenants in other units are becoming unhappy? Remember that they may be unhappy for two reasons. First, the noise and disruption. Be sure your workers are being respectful, no playing music while they work, no yelling when they need something from outside. Remind them that they are working in an occupied property. Consider not starting any work until 9:30am and stopping at 4:30pm. That's more than DC law requires but it will show your extremely high level of concern for your tenants should the issue ever be raised in court. Most tenants won't be around to hear the noise so you will avoid many complaints. It might take you an extra day or two but you will gain good will with your tenants.

The second reason the tenants could be upset is that work is being done on another unit and they have things they think are undone in their units. It's usually cheaper to add on a couple small projects so if you are planning to renovate an empty unit, consider asking the other tenants before you start if they have any maintenance requests. Again, goodwill is worth a great deal in litigation you avoid later and rent you get paid on time.



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