A Pennsylvania Noise FAQ
Providing general, FAQ-style, information about noise in Pennsylvania.
My neighbor causes noise problems? What can I do?
Some helpful, general suggestions include:
- Document, document, document: document dates, times, duration, type of noise, location, estimated distance from your property, description of participants, your activities that were interfered with, and, if available, noise levels (estimates OK such as louder than our conversation). Contact an attorney for advice before recording or videotaping incidents in Pennsylvania.
- Research whether your community maintains a noise ordinance or nuisance ordinance. If so, contact the municipality to get a copy and to determine any procedures needed to file a complaint.
- Contact a local attorney in Pennsylvania who focuses on noise, neighbor, or land-use issues. The attorney can assess your situation and determine whether a friendly talk with the neighbors may help or if other action is needed. S
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Why do the police say they can’t do anything about noise?
Calling the police and hearing an unfortunately common refrain, “well there’s nothing that the police can do” exacerbates community noise problems.
First, don’t argue with the police. You are frustrated and angry but arguing does nothing (and may make things worse).
Second, currently, Pennsylvania still leaves noise control to local communities and municipalities. Generally, the police have little general ability to cite people for noise—limited exceptions do apply such as traffic/vehicle noise (67 Pa.Code 157.11), disorderly conduct (18 Pa.C.S. 5503), and harassment (18 Pa.C.S. 2709).
Some communities maintain a noise ordinance or a nuisance ordinance (nuisance used here in the legal sense, not your own opinion of what a nuisance is). Contacting the municipality may help. The police can enforce some noise ordinances, depending on how the ordinance was written, but a code enforcement officer or health officer enforces others with a special procedure.
Third, if no ordinance, politely do your research, contact an attorney, and suggest a model noise ordinance for your community. A concerned community member with relevant information and suggested solutions who politely appears at a public meeting may help carry the day–moreso if your neighbors also appear.
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Can my neighbor make all the noise they want?
Generally speaking, no. Long-standing constitutional law requires that all neighbors act as good neighbors and conduct their activities so as not to disrupt or injure the activities of other neighbors. The baseline right remains the right to quiet enjoyment. Contrary to some claims, no right-to-make-noise exists. If there is a bona fide noise problem, the wrongdoer must mitigate, reduce, or stop the disruptive noise.
Unfortunately, we no longer live in a respectful and decent world. Me-first controls for many. wrongdoers may retaliate, harass, or otherwise continue the disruption. If the municipality maintains a noise ordinance (as it should), the municipality may be a resource. Otherwise, talk to a Pennsylvania attorney about next steps and strategies.
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