It’s 8pm on New Year’s Eve and you’ve just returned from the liquor store with your favorite drink: bourbon. For you, New Year’s Eve in California means a quiet night in front of the TV, watching Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen with your other half. There’s a part of you that hopes that you’ll still be awake by midnight, but deep down you know you’ll be asleep by 930. Your new neighbors, who are renting the house next door, seem like decent, understated and respectful people. They even knocked on the door earlier in the day to say Happy New Year. How delightful, you think to yourself as you savor your first sip of bourbon. But then, suddenly, without warning, an earthquake strikes! No, wait, it’s not an earthquake. Your perfect neighbors have decided to throw a party. But not just any party. A loud party. And unlike yours, their party does not end at 9:30. You’re furious. You feel betrayed. You thought you knew them. You reach the phone and luckily have your lawyer on speed dial. You tell him what happened and ask what legal rights you have against your neighbor. Probably none, your lawyer says, as you slump into your chair feeling defeated.
You see, the law is not there to protect you from people who want to throw a party on New Year’s Eve. But there are laws in California to protect you from ongoing unreasonably noisy neighbors. In California, this law is known as the law of nuisance. You have a right to “quiet enjoyment” of your property, whether you are a tenant who is leasing the house or you own the property. To win a nuisance lawsuit, you will need to show the court how your neighbor has unreasonably interfered with your right to quiet enjoyment. Note that you will have to prove the noisy neighbor’s behavior is unreasonable (that is why you would probably lose a nuisance claim in the New Year’s Eve example).
On the other hand, if you are renting your property, then as a tenant you have the right to quiet enjoyment of the property under the lease. You should contact your landlord if you are having trouble with noisy neighbors. If the landlord fails to take action to stop the noisy neighbors, you may have recourse against the landlord in California.
In California, there are also local noise abatement laws that restrict the number of decibels that can be emitted during specified times of day. You should contact your local authorities to find out what these are and how they typically enforce them. You will often find that enforcing laws against noisy neighbors is not a priority for local authorities or law enforcement.
So what should you do? If your neighbor’s noise is a persistent problem, the first thing to do is talk to your neighbor. This might just do the trick. If it doesn’t, be sure to document all of the instances of noise emanating from your neighbor’s property. Recordings of the noise are especially helpful. This will assist in proving your case if you ever decide to bring a legal action in the California courts against your neighbor. Involving a lawyer early is a good idea. If you are not making progress by reasoning with your neighbor, sometimes a demand letter sent by a lawyer on your behalf will be all that you need to regain the peace and quiet that you crave. Once your neighbor sees that you have engaged a lawyer to make your demands known, they may just think twice before blasting out their favorite Taylor Swift song at 3am.