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You’re bunking down on a Friday night looking forward to a good night’s sleep after a tiring week.
But dang, the next-door-neighbor's summer party isn’t cooperating, with pulsating music and animated chatter infiltrating from his back yard.
Shouting, “Quiet Please!” over the fence is like shouting the same at a roaring BART train. No effect. You call the neighbor’s phone a few times; no one picks up.
What to do?
An Albany Patch reader, who for perhaps self-explanatory reasons, asked to remain anonymous recently posed this question. Does the city’s noise ordinance cover outdoor conversation? An outside party, or playful kids in the wee morning were his examples.
Leaving aside, for the moment, opinions on how best to nurture harmonious neighborly relations, for noise-generators or unhappy recipients, we looked into the facts.
Albany’s noise ordinance (Chapter VIII Law Enforcement, search Albany noise ordinance) covers noise from many sources, including outdoor play and partying. The intro states:
"It is hereby declared to be the policy of the City of Albany to prohibit unnecessary, excessive, and annoying noises from all sources subject to its police power. At certain levels noises are detrimental to the health and welfare of the citizenry and in the public interests shall be systematically proscribed."
The ordinance sets allowed decibel levels for different times of the 24-hour day. More and louder noise is allowed between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. than during the night time, but all hours are subject to decibel limits.
The regulation allows louder noise for shorter periods of time, and less noise in residentially zoned areas than in commerical/industrial.
For details see the ordinance here (search Albany noise ordinance) or attached to the right.
The law is helpful in mediating noise problems, but challenging to apply legally since it requires professional quality sound equipment, which the city lacks, said Jeff Bond, Albany’s Community Development director.
The police don’t have decibel monitors. The community development department has basic, low-cost monitors it loans to residents.
“The police don’t have the equipment or the training to accurately measure in a manner that would hold up in court, and the ones we have are probably not going to stand up in court either,” Bond said.
Still, he said, the city’s loaner equipment can get enough information to plan next steps, especially when used for recurring or persistent noise. “If we know roughly what the noise levels are, we can decide whether to spend money to hire an acoustical engineer to do a study.”
He hasn't yet had to take this step, Bond adds.
Bond points out that noise sensitivity varies among individuals. “I peacefully can sleep through a party next door, but my wife can’t. Having the data, at least you know what you’re dealing with.”
Most noise complaints start with a call to police. And most of the time, a patrol officer visit is enough to quell neighbor-to-neighbor noise issues, said Lt. John Geissberger.
“Typically, most people comply; sometimes we need to go out a second time.”
The law, which is punishable by jail time of up to 90 days and fines of up to $400, covers, in part, “any person who maliciously or willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise.”
When defining problem noise, there’s power in numbers, Bond points out, adding that he and his staff are also available to mediate noise issues. “If four or five neighbors come in together it strengthens the case."
This also helps avoid pitting individual against individual, he said. “It's hard for us to deal with it and keep people's names private. This dilutes who is leading the charge.”
To reach police about a noise problem, call 510-525-7300.
If you have about a problem in Albany, send it in with "You Ask" in the subject line, and we'll do our best to dig up an answer. Your name will not be shared without permission.
If there's something in this article you think , or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.