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How Many Decibels Is Too Loud for Neighbors? Limits, Legalities & FAQs

Two smiling male neighbors talking through wooden fence

Are you longing for peace and quiet after a hard day at work? Well, if you live in an apartment with noisy neighbors, that can quickly ruin your “Netflix and chill” plans. You won’t even be able to get a good night’s sleep! Fortunately, the law is pretty strict about this. In the US, noises beyond 70 dB are registered as “disturbance”.

For residential environments, the limits are set at 55–65 dB. They kick in at 10:00 PM and last until 7:00 AM. So, if the dwellers upstairs or downstairs are blasting their music at 3:00 AM, you can file a complaint with local authorities. But still, how loud is too loud? How do you measure noise levels and provide evidence? Let’s find out!

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Decibels: Going From 0 to 140 dB

The term “decibels” is a relative unit of measurement used to describe the intensity (loudness) of sound waves. Zero dB is the quietest sound that our ears can hear. But if the noise is too loud, that can cause permanent damage. In the States, long exposure to 85+ dB is considered dangerous. In manufacturing facilities, plants, and industrial environments, this is the maximum allowed dB level.

Anything above that is hazardous. When exposed to 85 dB for eight hours straight, you’ll reach the so-called “daily noise dose”. The same will happen if you work in an environment with 90 dB for 2 hours. As for 100 dB, it will only take 15 minutes to reach the daily dose. And if you stand near a sound source that generates 140 dB, you might suffer hearing loss in less than five minutes.

Women talking
Image credit: Women talking by pasja1000. Pixabay

Near-Source vs Distant Readings: How Do They Differ?

The further away you are from a sound source, the quieter the noise will be. Therefore, if the neighbors are playing music or a TV show at 70 dB, you won’t be able to do anything about that because, in your home, it won’t be nearly as loud. And when the authorities arrive, they’ll measure the decibel levels at your place, not the neighbor’s home or apartment.

If the speakers are blasting at 80–85 dB, yet the decibel meter is showing 60 dB in your home, that won’t be a violation according to the law. So, make sure it’s 70+ dB within your property limit, NOT in the neighbor’s home. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting the time of the police officers.

So, How Loud Can Neighbors Get?

We all like to get into the party mood now and then to blow off some steam. However, to avoid trouble with the law (and hefty fines), it’s important to keep local regulations in mind. Now, decibel limits for apartments can vary a bit depending on the city or state, but any noise that goes beyond 70 dB will be classified as disturbing by the EPA.

That’s why residential limits are set at 55–65 dB. Get in touch with the authorities in the area to familiarize yourself with the regulations in place. They’ll tell you about the exact limits and the time of the day when these rules kick in. In most states, you can make as much noise as you want during the day. But if you get too loud between 10:00 PM and 7:00 AM, that will be a disturbance.

client talking to the hired handyman
Image Credit: Freepik

What Are the Penalties? Are They Severe?

Again, every city is a bit different, but the laws and procedures are very similar across the country. For example, in Seattle, civil infractions issued by a police officer come with a $250 fine. And if they register another violation within 24 hours, they will have the legal right to file a criminal charge. The maximum penalty is a $500 fine or 180 days in jail.

However, if you’re reporting a violation for the first time, the police will only issue an official warning to your noisy neighbors. When reporting another violation, be ready for the cops to enter your home and measure noise levels using their own equipment.

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Common Sounds in dB: How Loud Are They?

Now that we’ve talked about government regulations and learned how loud is too loud for a neighbor’s music, here’s a quick look at a decibel level chart. We picked the most common noises that we hear in our daily lives. A typical conversation can be as loud as 60 dB, while hair dryers easily reach 90 dB and beyond:

Common Sounds in dB:
  • Sound Source/Noise Decibel Level Danger Level
  • Breathing: 10 dB None
  • Whispering: 20–30 dB None
  • Rainfall: 50 dB Very Low
  • Refrigerator: 50 dB Very Low
  • Regular conversation: 60 dB Low
  • Dishwasher: 70 dB Low
  • Washing machine: 70 dB Low
  • Alarm clock: 70–80 dB Moderate
  • Hair dryer: 90 dB Moderate
  • Power tools: 90 dB Moderate/High
  • Car horn: 110 dB High
  • Plane (taking off): 120 dB High
  • Gunshot: 130–140 dB Very High
  • Fireworks: 130–140 dB Very High
person turning the key in the ignition of the car
Image Credit: Vereshchagin Dmitry, Shutterstock

Dealing With Loud Neighbor Noises: What You Can Do

Very few things are as frustrating as loud noises in the middle of the night, especially if they’re coming from the neighbors. Now, if you still haven’t filed a complaint, here’s a quick look at the things that you can do to try and fix the situation and get your well-deserved peace back:

Things that you can do:
  • Keep your cool! Being a hothead won’t help solve anything. If you’re quick to call the police on your neighbors, that can lead to undesired consequences. You don’t want to have a bad relationship with people that are living right above or below you, right? So, keep it cool, and go from there.
  • Have a friendly conversation. It won’t hurt to have a chat with the folks that are robbing you of your quiet. It could very well be that they didn’t even know you were being disturbed by their actions. Just ask them to dial it down a bit, and that should do it. Most likely, the neighbors will apologize a thousand times for the trouble.
  • Reach out to your landlord. Not having any luck following the civilized route? If you’re renting the apartment, don’t hesitate to let the landlord know about your ordeal. They are obligated by the law of the United States to come to your aid and find a solution. Contacting the property management company would also be a wise idea.
  • Involve the authorities. If talking to the neighbors and involving the landlord is still not getting you anywhere, it’s time to reach out to the cops. You will have to make a complaint, though, with proper evidence so that they can use it. These complaints don’t have to be public knowledge.

Providing Legal Evidence: A Step-By-Step Guide

We want to stress it one more time: the police won’t accept any noise complaints unless they’re backed by real evidence. We’re talking about audio or video recordings that show actual dB levels. Time logs will also come in handy and allow the authorities to take action. Next, you’ll have to prove that it is the neighbors making all that noise. If they’re renting, consider providing info on the landlord.

While you’re at it, take a moment to describe how the disturbance is impacting the daily lives of people living in your house. Finally, don’t forget to attach a note on how you’ve told the neighbor(s) about the noise and asked them to do something about it, but they didn’t comply.

Summing up, here’s what you’ll need to provide:
  • Concrete evidence of disturbing noise created by the neighbors
  • Names of the people (or the landlord) that are making the noise
  • A detailed description of how that’s affecting your enjoyment/peace
Tenant cover ears with hands hate noise at home
Image Credit: Fizkes, Shutterstock

Measuring Decibel Levels With an App

You won’t have to invest in expensive audio equipment to capture decibel levels. There are lots of apps out there that do all the heavy lifting. Some are available for free, while others will cost you $5–10. All you have to do is download, install, and hit “start”. The apps will do the rest, and you’ll be able to use the results as legal evidence to back your case. Most applications are compatible with Android, iOS, and PC.

Some of the best decibel-reading apps include Decibel Meter, Sound Level Meter, and Decibel Pro. The NIOSH Sound Level Meter App is also a great pick. On a PC, go with Decibel Reader or Audacity. And if you’re ready to invest extra, you can always get a decibel meter device. It will be more accurate than any program or app, thanks to the built-in microphone. It will cost $150–250, though, yet you’ll only need to use it once or twice.

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If you’re lucky enough to live in a private home, you’ve probably never had to deal with noisy neighbors. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about residential dwellers. No matter how well-insulated the apartment is, you still won’t be able to avoid the annoyance. The good news is—there are laws and regulations regarding dB levels.

In the United States, going above 65–70 dB will get your neighbors in trouble, but only after 10:00 PM. Now, measuring dB levels, recording them, and providing proof to local police can be a daunting and time-consuming task. However, if you’re tired of having to deal with disturbing noises on your own all the time, this is the only way to get justice!

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Featured Image Credit: BearFotos, Shutterstock


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