You go through the entire application rigmarole: you post the listing, screen tenants, show the property, sign the lease, and finally feel like you can relax. But, suddenly, you get a noise complaint from one tenant about another. 

Normally, you would simply advise the tenant to be more respectful of their neighbors. But what happens if you can’t resolve the issue by having a discussion with the tenants? Perhaps the complaining tenant has unreasonable expectations or the offending tenant apologizes but doesn’t change their behavior. In cases where it isn’t clear on how to effectively resolve the issue, here are 7 helpful tips to help solve or prevent the problem.

Check your lease. 

First and foremost, what does it say about reasonable or otherwise noise in your lease? If you don’t have a noise clause, and the offending tenant is, for example, loudly practicing their trombone solo after 9 or 10 pm, adding a noise policy to your lease is the first step to ensuring you can efficiently deal with noise complaints in the future.

Equal rights of quiet enjoyment.

Remember that both tenants have the right to quiet enjoyment. Just because a tenant complains about noise, doesn’t mean they are automatically in the right—especially when it comes to downstairs vs. upstairs tenants. Be objective when receiving noise complaints and ask the complaining tenant to record any instances of what they think are unreasonable noise levels. 

Research local noise ordinances.

What are your local noise ordinances? Even if you don’t have a noise clause in your lease, cities or counties often have their own noise ordinances. If the offending tenant is in violation of these laws, you can have the complaining tenant record the noise and/or inform local authorities for documented evidence. (If your local noise ordinances have a decibel rating limit, consider adding that as the limit in your lease as well.)

Buy a decibel meter from Amazon. 

Especially in a downstairs vs. upstairs tenant situation, decibel meters can come in handy. Ask tenants to record the sound and the decibel meter’s reading when the upstairs tenants are being loud. They can send the recording and meter reading to you via email. 

The following graphic from Center for Hearing and Communication contains points of reference of sound levels for common activities, measured in dBAs or decibels.

Graphic for Noise Complaint Measuring: Image from Center for Hearing and Communication that organizes common noises into three categories (Home, Work, Recreation) as points of reference for measuring noise
Points of reference for sound levels, according to the Center for Hearing and Communication, measured in dBAs.
Send a cure or quit.

A notice to cure or quit is sent by a landlord when a tenant violates the lease in some capacity. The notice effectively tells a tenant to either rectify the problem or move out of the property. Typically, if the tenant continues violating the lease and doesn’t vacate the property, they can be evicted. While most landlords won’t go straight to a cure or quit notice, you can issue a formal warning asking the offending tenant to rectify their behavior before sending a “last-chance” cure or quit notice.

Have reasonable expectations for yourself. 

Ultimately, your tenants are grown adults and there’s only so much you can do. If the core issue of the noise complaint is upstairs neighbors simply walking around in their upper unit, the most you can do is suggest the downstairs neighbor buy some noise-canceling headphones or the upstairs neighbor buy some rugs or offer either one cash for keys.

What is an example of a noise complaint policy in a lease?

If you don’t already, you should strongly consider including a noise complaint policy in your lease. As always, be sure to consult any legal representative to ensure you have covered all your bases. An example of one property’s noise policy is:

“Tenant agrees to maintain a reasonable level of noise at all times of the day and night, so as not to disturb or disrupt neighboring apartments or houses. Tenant shall fully cooperate with all other Tenants in the building in an effort to maintain a peaceful atmosphere at all times. Tenant agrees not to create and/or maintain a nuisance or other disturbance that infringes upon the comfortable living conditions or privacy of other residents. Tenant further agrees not to engage in any retaliatory behavior against any neighbor who makes any complaint about the Tenant. Tenant further agrees that behavior on the part of the Tenant that violates any term of the House Rules or any Lease document is grounds for the termination of the Lease by Landlord.”

(Source)

For added measure, consider adding enforced quiet hours (typically from 10 pm-10 am) and what decibel level is considered “reasonable” to quantify a usually subjective concept of “reasonable”.

Ultimately, while it is important to account for potential noise complaints in your lease, it’s also important to know your limitations as a landlord. Without hard evidence of a tenant violating any noise ordinances or policies, it is difficult for you to enforce any legal action or send an eviction notice. Urge both tenants to resolve the issue themselves or offer to let someone out of the lease if you want to avoid a potentially messy situation.