Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ February 2007

Sound Off!

The Law on Neighborhood Noise

By Linda Perlman

Are you bothered by continuous loud amplified music every weekend emanating from your neighbor’s deck?  Are you awakened at 6 a.m. every Saturday morning by the sound of your neighbor’s chain saw?  Does your neighbor’s noisy HVAC system or exhaust fan prevent you from enjoying being outside?  Noise will always be present in an urban environment.  But, when sound becomes noise — a loud, discordant, or disagreeable sound or sounds — it becomes a quality of life issue disturbing your normal activities and interfering with the peaceful enjoyment of your property.  Persistent exposure to high levels of noise can result in psychological stress and hearing damage.

Montgomery County has a comprehensive noise control ordinance (Chapter 31B, Montgomery County Code) which seeks to control and reduce overall noise levels to reasonable limits.  The county’s ordinance sets maximum allowable sound level limits.  Sound levels are measured at the nearest receiving property line using sound meters.  Different sound levels apply to residential and nonresidential zones and during daytime and nighttime hours.  The residential standards, expressed as A-weighted decibels, are 65 dBA for daytime hours (7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekends and holidays) and 55 dBA for nighttime hours (9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., weekends and holidays).

These sound level standards are designed as outdoor property line measurements and do not apply to indoor noise.  The sound level limits also are not applied to the non-amplified human voice, such as the sound of singing or shouting.  Further, between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays, there are higher standards for construction noise in recognition that construction activities necessarily result in temporary increases in noise levels.

Because of federal and state law preemption, the county’s noise control ordinance does not apply to federal and state projects or facilities or to aircraft, railroads, and motor vehicles on public roadways.

The noise control ordinance states that a person, which includes a group of individuals as well as a corporation or other business entity, must not “cause or permit” noise exceeding the applicable sound level limits of the ordinance.  The noise control ordinance is enforced by the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) — call 240.777.7710 and ask to speak with an Environmental Protection Specialist in DEP’s Noise Program — or by a police officer.  Noise from animal sources, such as barking dogs, is delegated to the Division of Animal Control.

Because most noise violations occur when an enforcement officer with a sound level meter is not present or indoors between apartments or townhouse units, the noise control ordinance includes a provision for a “noise disturbance violation” and allows citizens to file two-party noise complaints.  A noise disturbance does not depend on sound level measurements; rather, a noise disturbance is defined as sound that is “unpleasant, annoying, offensive, loud, or obnoxious.”  The two key elements of a noise disturbance are that the noise is “unusual for the time of day or location where it is produced or heard” and that the noise “unreasonably interferes with the proper use and enjoyment of property or the lawful conduct of business.”  Noise disturbance complaints must be filed and signed by two or more witnesses to the noise disturbance.

Many neighbor-to-neighbor noise problems can be resolved by talking to the neighbor who may be unaware that he or she is creating a noise disturbance.  If the parties are unable to resolve the noise problem through person-to-person communication and both parties agree, then mediation may be an effective means of solving the noise dispute (contact the Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County at 301.942.7700 or the Maryland Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office at 410.841.2260).

Under the county noise control ordinance, once a violation of the sound levels standards is established or the enforcement officer has determined that there is probable cause to sustain a noise disturbance complaint, then DEP will issue a Violation Notice and Correction Order, stating the nature of the violation and specifying the necessary corrective action.  If the noise violation is abated, then DEP will not take further action.  In cases where abatement of the noise violation requires the replacement or retrofit of equipment (for example, a standby-generator that does not meet the sound level standards) or the construction of an enclosure or sound barrier for equipment or facilities, DEP also may require a violator to submit and follow a plan to achieve compliance with the noise control ordinance within a reasonable time.

If the noise violation continues, recurs, or is flagrant, or for construction-related noise violations, then a civil citation or ticket may be issued.  A Class A violation has a maximum fine of $500 for the first offense.  In addition to the monetary fine, an Abatement Order, to deter further violations, can be entered by the District Court of Maryland.  Violation of an Abatement Order may result in further monetary penalties and/or in detention of the violator for contempt of court.

Further information about the Montgomery County’s noise control ordinance and program, and on filing a Citizen’s Two-Party Noise Disturbance Complaint, is available at .html.   ■

   © 2007 NFCCA  [Source:]