Apartment Noise Complaint: How to Deal With Noisy Neighbors

Published on September 13th, 2017
By Jennifer Oppriecht

It may come as no surprise that the most frequent complaints a property manager receives are noise-related.  If you have noisy neighbors, here are a few tips on how to deal with them, including how to file an apartment noise complaint in Madison.

No one likes to deal with noisy apartment neighbors. We know. We’ve heard all types of complaints about them, including:  

  • The music is too loud
  • The TV is too loud
  • The barking dog is too loud
  • The beer kegger party is way, way, waaaaay too loud

If you live in an apartment where noise is becoming an issue, here are steps both parties can take to lessen the chances of a noise complaint.

The Most Frequent Types of Noise Issues in Apartments

The types of noise complaints typically depends on the apartments, according to Alyssa Hellenbrand-Best, Director of Operations at Steve Brown Apartments.  “Some properties are more lifestyle related — they might have more parties or loud music,” she said.

Alyssa Hellenbrand-Best

Alyssa Hellenbrand-Best, Director of Operations at Steve Brown Apartments


Alyssa notes that many of the issues simply involve getting used to living in a multi-family setting. She strongly advocates working out issues directly with your neighbors first.

“Ninety percent of the time, they aren’t even aware they’re being noisy,” she said.

Before we to how to file a noise complaint, let’s start out with some general questions frequently asked about noise in an apartment building.

How Late Can You Play Loud Music in Your Apartment Building?

Is there a noise curfew in your apartment?  That’s a good question you should ask before you make a complaint.  If your neighbors are being loud at night, you’ll want to know how late they can play music.

However, if the music is obnoxiously loud and bothering you, then curfew shouldn’t matter.

What if the Neighbor’s Dog Won’t Stop Barking in a Nearby Apartment?

A barking dog in an apartment is always a touchy subject.  If you live in a pet-friendly building, you can expect a bark or two when someone visits your neighbor. But incessant barking when your neighbor is away isn’t acceptable.

Excessive barking isn't acceptable.

How Do You Deal With Noise From the Apartment Above?

Depending on how your apartment is constructed, you may hear loud noises such as music and footsteps. This could be because your neighbor has hardwood floors, for example, but it might be resolved when you talk to each other.

“We had case where the upstairs neighbor wasn’t aware that his work boots were causing a lot of noise,” Alyssa said. “He took his shoes off, and the noise stopped.”

Before You File That Noise Complaint…

If you have a noisy neighbor and you’re ready to file that noise complaint, take a deep breath. There may be other ways to correct it without escalating the issue.

Open a Line of Communication

As Alyssa mentioned, a noisy neighbor doesn’t realize that he, she or they are causing a ruckus.  Knock on your neighbor’s door and introduce yourself.  Establish a line of communication.  Then if there is an issue, both parties will be a tad more amicable in working toward a resolution.

Establish a line of communication.

Solve the Problem on Your End

If you live in an older apartment with thin walls, some noise may be inevitable. Consider getting a white noise machine like this Marpac SleepMate Sound Conditioner.

CAUTION: Be Mindful of Criminal Activities

We encourage residents to try solving noise issues on their own, but these problems take on a different dimension when there is potential criminal activity involved.  

If you hear strangers pounding on a neighbor’s door in the middle of the night or other types of suspicious behavior that seems out of the ordinary, trust your gut and contact the police. Anything that seems fishy should be reported to both the landlord and the police.

How to File a Noise Complaint in an Apartment

Ok, you’ve tried everything. You’re ready to start complaining to the landlord about noise. Or the police. Or anyone who can help you.

Here are some questions and answers on how to make a noise complaint in an apartment:

Who Do You Call to File a Noise Complaint?

If there is a noise disturbance and it’s during business hours for your property owner, you can call them.  However, if it’s after hours, call the police.

Do You Report Noisy Neighbors to the Police?

Calling the cops on noisy neighbors is recommended if you can’t get ahold of your property owner, but be sure to call the non-emergency police line. If you think it’s a safety concern, call 9-11.

Call the non-emergency line.

Should I Send a Complaint Letter About the Neighbors to the Landlord?

It can’t hurt to send a noise complaint letter or email to landlord, and it will help you document the occurrences if the neighbor is a chronic offender.  Having a letter along with a police report (if they get involved) will be useful if the complaints aren’t resolved.

If you’re looking for an apartment noise complaint letter sample, Alyssa recommends just making sure you include key details, such as:

  • Where did the noise occur? (whose apartment was it coming from)
  • When did it occur?
  • What was the noise? (i.e. music, TV, pets, etc.)
  • Did you reach out to the neighbor to let them know, and if so what happened?
  • Did the police respond? Is there a complaint number?

The more information you can include, the better.  Details are important.

Can You Get Evicted for Noise Complaints?

In all the time Alyssa has been working at Steve Brown Apartments, she’s never seen a renter evicted for a noise complaint, mainly because they are usually resolved amicably and with minimal intervention. Plus, “noise level is subjective so it’s difficult to prove in an eviction case.”  

The person making the complaint also has to be willing to testify, and the entire process can take months. It’s why it’s often easier to simply work with the landlord and the police to work with the noisy neighbor and resolve the issue outside of the eviction process.

How Do You Get a Noisy Neighbor Evicted?

If noise complaints in apartments persist, and the noise citations begin to pile up, Alyssa says the property owner can issue a 5-day notice, and then proceed with eviction if the behavior continues.

The process isn’t instantaneous, however. It’s not as cut-and-dry as a case where the renter isn’t paying rent: A noise complaint is subjective, and it requires evidence and ideally third party documentation.

But if you feel it’s your only option, you should work with your property owner to press forward.

Can You Make an Anonymous Noise Complaint?

You can, but Alyssa notes it won’t be as helpful. It’s difficult for officers to substantiate an anonymous noise complaint, and if it the complaint led up to an eviction process, there would be no one to testify.

Anonymous complaints are hard to substantiate.

However, one tenant sent out an anonymous noise complaint in a clever way.  As suggested in this article by LifeHacker, rename your Wi-Fi network a name like “BeQuietApartment1121.”  It’s a creative approach, provided your neighbor has Wi-Fi and views his/her options before connecting.

Should I get Fellow Renters to Join the Noise Complaint?

As a landlord, it’s difficult to act on noise complaints when it’s just a he-said, she-said situation. We will always follow up on any noise complaints, regardless of evidence, but without third party substantiation, we can’t pursue further action.

However, if multiple parties are being disturbed, it’s easier for us to take action.  Talk to your neighbors.  Find out if anyone is suffering the same problems.  Then report the disturbances en masse.  

What we don’t want to see is a group of neighbors ganging up on a resident like an angry mob. Enforcement is best left for the police and the property owners.

Are Landlords Responsible for Noisy Tenants?

A resident is responsible for his/her own noise violation, not the property owner.  However, if there are repeated noise complaints within an apartment, and the property owner isn’t taking any action to help resolve the problem, then yes, they do bear some responsibility.

However, as Alyssa notes, “Landlords don’t want a noisy person in the building. They are likely going to take the available steps to try to resolve noise issues.”

Landlords don't want noisy tenants.

Is There a Madison Noise Ordinance for Apartments?

There is not one specifically for noises coming from apartments, but a general noise ordinance, which you can find here.  The ordinance is about the “prohibition of noises disturbing the public peace.”

It includes the following language, including some harsh language about phonographs:

(1) No person shall make or assist in making any noise tending to unreasonably disturb the peace and quiet of persons in the vicinity thereof unless the making and continuing of the same cannot be prevented and is necessary for the protection or preservation of property or of the health, safety, life or limb of some person.

(2) No person, firm or corporation occupying or having charge of any building or premises, or any part thereof, shall cause, suffer or allow any loud, excessive or unusual noise in the operation or use of any radio, phonograph or other mechanical or electrical device, instrument or machine, which loud, excessive or unusual noise tends to unreasonably disturb the comfort, quiet or repose of persons therein or in the vicinity. (Am. by Ord. 7506, 9-3-81)

How to Avoid the Noisy Neighbor Issue Before it Starts

You can’t predict when and where a noisy neighbor might live, but you can take some steps to ensure you’re far away from them in the event they live in your building. Here are some tips:

Rent a Top Floor Apartment

If you cherish your quiet, go for a top-floor apartment.  You’ll be far less likely to be bothered by footsteps or thumps from above.

Look for New Construction or Ask About STC (Sound Transmission Class) Ratings

STC ratings reflect the decibel reduction in noise that a partition can provide.  Older homes weren’t built with STC ratings in mind.  An STC rating around 33 counts is common with “paper-thin walls.” Climb up into 60 or more, as you’ll find with most new construction, and most frequencies become inaudible.

Stay Away From Noisy Areas  

Maybe it’s not your neighbor who is noisy. Maybe it’s where you’re living. Ask for an apartment that isn’t right across the hall from the trash or recycling bins.  Or avoid an apartment right next to the elevator or the stairs, or windows over the dumpsters.

How Can I Reduce Noise in My Own Apartment?

If you want to be a good neighbor in an apartment complex, then you’ll want to know how to reduce sound in your apartment.  Here are a few tips:

1. Acoustic panels.  Acoustic panels, like the one featured here from Acoustimac, can help minimize sound. 

Acoustic panels

2. It’s curtains for all that noise.  Curtains help, too.  

3. Tapestry on a wall or a ceiling. You can either go with a funky overhead tapestry or hang something on the wall.  Either way, cloth will deaden the sound.

4. Make your artwork soundproof.  Artwork can also double as soundproofing material.  Here’s a great post on how to soundproof your own artwork.

Soundproof artwork.

5. Put a rug under it:  A must.  The more rugs on the floor, the better.

6. Cardboard egg cartons:  Tacked together, they can dampen noise.  Check out this article for more details.

7. Plants on the balcony: Cluster a number of plants together – it will help absorb the sound.

Finally, 10 Incredibly Annoying Sounds You MUST Avoid Making in Your Apartment

In an effort to prevent further noise complaints, we’d like to share 10 incredibly annoying sounds that you absolutely should not make in your apartment.

As reported on Smithsonian.com, a group of neuroscientists researched which sounds most upset the human brain.  Here is the compilation that follows (with a little addition of our own).

We share these with you on the condition that you:

A. Try and avoid recreating these noises in your apartment, and
B. Read on and find out what you can do if your neighbor happens to engage in some of these (and other) annoying noises.

No catalog of annoying sounds would be complete without this epic rendition of the world’s most annoying sound.  For that, we turn to the master, Jim Carrey.

Let’s Make Some Positive Noise

Filing noise complaints isn’t easy, and should be considered a last resort. It’s far easier to keep the lines of communication open with your fellow renters.  

As building owners, we find that noise issues are resolved the fastest when tenants talk to each other and work out the issue.  So communicate – make some positive noise!

Care to share with us some of the worst noises you’ve heard?  Or how you’ve dealt with noisy neighbors in the past? Please leave a comment below.

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