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You Ask: Loud Party Out the Window; Is There a Law?

A reader asks Albany Patch if the city's noise ordinance covers loud conversation outside your house. Write us at albany@patch.com with your questions.

[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.]

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.”

In addition to the city code, police can cite state public nuisance law (Section 415 of the California Penal Code), he said, which is helpful in getting people to quiet down.

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 albany@patch.com.

lubov mazur July 30, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Last week, midweek (Wednesday?), it was just hours of loud talking and laughter next door, but when the dope smoke came drifting in the windows at 1AM we'd had enough. One firm request for quiet was enough to send them indoors. I wish it could always be so easy.
Winifred Owen July 30, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Why is it difficult to keep people's names private? The police should NEVER divulge who registered a complaint. EVER!!
Karin Lamb July 30, 2012 at 08:27 PM
@Winifred Owen: when it becomes a legal issue the complainant can't remain anonymous, the accused violator of the ordinance has a constitutionally protected right to face his or her accuser.
Ross Stapleton-Gray July 30, 2012 at 10:42 PM
I don't think that's the case, e.g., if I hear screams from next door, and alert the police, if they then show up and witness a violation in progress, that's what they arrest or cite for, and who called them is really immaterial (the police have become "the accusers"). Now, if I call the police because my neighbor is blasting Iggy Pop at 2am, and when the cops show up there's nothing happening, it probably ends there... I could provide a video of the incident, perhaps, and yes, if I were the only witness, it only goes forward if I'm willing to step up and identify myself.
Tatter Salad July 31, 2012 at 06:00 AM
The ordinance described is if the Police support the complaint, and file accordingly. If you ask the police, the rules they follow is this: If a complaint is lodged, and signed by two residences that do NOT immediately border the property that is creating the noise, then the police will enforce 'quietude.' It does not matter what time of day the noise is being created.
Robert Marshall July 31, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Thanks for the link. And THIS is why it takes 10x the number of words to explain something that takes some simple sentence. Under Animal Control: "...Dog shall mean and include female as well as male dogs over four (4) months of age..." Is is REALLY necessary to point out that this includes females??
Ross Stapleton-Gray July 31, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Taxonomy is a b!tch.
Catherine (Kate) Rauch August 01, 2012 at 12:13 AM
That's funny.

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