Unless your property is in the middle of nowhere in San Diego, at some point you are bound to deal with a complaint about a noisy tenant. This may come in the form of a nasty e-mail from a neighbor, a formal complaint from the HOA, or worse, a nuisance complaint from the city of San Diego if a neighbor complains to the police. As the property owner you are ultimately responsible for dealing with the noisy tenant and could face fines until you do so.
So how do you handle noise complaints about your tenants?
Determine if the complaint is valid
Upon receiving a noise complaint you should first determine if the complaint is valid. Don’t jump to the conclusion that your tenant was in the wrong and confront them without doing some investigating. Sometimes neighbors can be overly sensitive to noises that are part of daily living and maybe your tenant was a little noisier than usual for a perfectly acceptable reason. If there are no local laws or regulations regarding the type of noise complained of, use common sense to determine if the neighbor is complaining about acceptable noises, some of which are listed below.
Parties: It is perfectly acceptable for your tenant to have people over for a get-together, provided it does not cause a nuisance to the neighbors no matter what time during the day/night. However, a complaint about frequent loud parties (day or night) is valid and should be addressed with your tenant as soon as possible.
Noisy Feet: Tenants are allowed to walk around their own unit, no matter what time of day or night it is, so a complaint about “loud walking” is not valid. However, a noisy feet complaint might be valid if your tenant is say, jumping around, or wrestling with friends, especially at night.
Barking Dogs: Dogs bark; that is what they do, and an occasional bark from your tenant’s dog is fine. However excessive barking, day or night, is never acceptable.
Loud Arguments: Couples and roommates fight and sometimes arguments get loud. One loud argument is not worth worrying over but complaints about nightly screaming fights are a legitimate problem that must be addressed.
Note: Some municipalities place a limit on noise decibels, which obviously should never be exceeded. If your property is subject to such a limit and you received a violation notice you should ask the department that issued the notice to come to the property and measure the noise levels in order to see if the complaint was valid.
If you determine the noise complaint was not valid:
If, after investigating the noise complaint you find it to be unwarranted, let the complaining party know your conclusion and why. Even if you determine the complaint was unwarranted you might want to offer a solution that both parties can live with in order to gain favor with a sensitive neighbor and possibly avoid future meritless complaints. For example, if the complaint was about your upstairs tenant walking noisily, offer to put down area rugs to absorb some of the noise.
If the noise complaint is valid:
If multiple parties are complaining about your tenant, chances are your tenant is being too noisy and you might want to go to the property to hear for yourself if possible.
If a noise complaint is valid you must address it with your tenant immediately. You cannot allow your tenant to interfere with the neighbors’ peace and quiet. Let your tenant know exactly what noise is being complained of and how you expect them to resolve it.
The solution may be simple. As mentioned above, if a downstairs neighbor is complaining about noise from upstairs, put down area rugs to absorb excess noise. If your tenant is accused of yelling or screaming, let them know so they are aware that the neighbors can hear them. A good tenant will listen to your warnings and abate the noise.
However, if the noise complaints continue after you have addressed them you may need to evict your tenant. Refer to Understanding the Eviction Process so you understand the proper notice requirements involved when it comes to evicting based on excess noise. (In California you must provide “cure or quit” notice that allows the tenant so many days to “cure” the noise problem; see Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 1161(3)).
Include a noise clause in your lease:
Protect yourself from noisy tenant issues by including a noise, or quiet hours clause in the lease. For example, such a clause might allow you to fine your tenant should you receive a valid noise complaint that violates the clause.
Properly screen potential tenants
Your best bet in finding good tenants that will not cause trouble is to screen them first. With their permission, you can run background checks to see if they have had noise or other complaints against them in previous rentals. Refer to Screening Potential Tenants for a more in-depth discussion on how to properly screen potential tenants.
You cannot afford to ignore a noise complaint about a tenant. As with anything, do not jump to conclusions about either your tenant or the complaining party until you look into the complaint as outlined above. And if you determine there was no valid complaint and the complaining neighbor is overly sensitive, be a good neighbor and try to come up with a compromise that keeps your tenant and the complaining party happy.