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posted: 1/8/2012 12:01 AM

Rental forum: Don't involve law enforcement unless situation is dire

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Q. I live in an apartment community that is very large. Recently there has been a rather heated discussion between tenants and management over noise complaints. The heart of the issue is determining who is responsible for notifying the tenant causing the noise problem or disturbance, and I wanted your opinion.

Here is one recent experience I had with the tenants who live downstairs from me. The tenant had friends over and the noise level was loud and lasted until 3 a.m. I work full time while these people are on government assistance and have all day to sleep in. I've tried calling the apartment community security or courtesy patrol, but they either don't respond or come two hours later when it's over.

If the tenant below me has been drinking or doing other things, I really don't know what to expect if I do go down and knock on their door to tell them to tone it down. If I complain to the landlord, then she calls them or places a notice on their door. Then they cry foul that their civil rights have been violated and that they are reasonable people and should be treated with respect. However, I find that they actually retaliate by either making more noise or by making verbal threats.

The landlord insists that it's proper that "you should knock on the person's door to let them know they're being too loud." The landlord believes that this is the best way to do things, at least in the beginning. Then, if that doesn't work, call the community courtesy patrol so they have a record of the incident; if that fails, call the sheriff.

To me it's shrugging the duties onto another party and not taking responsibility for the people they move in, giving into their ways, regardless of how long other tenants have been living here. They use legalities to get themselves out of the situation.

I'm a senior and I work hard, rent is very high, and it's difficult to just jump around and find a new place. So it's just shut up and tolerate it rather than make waves, and to me that's no way to live. What do you think?

A. I think that both you and your landlord make valid points. But let me get more specific about what I would advise in this situation.

Certainly it would seem reasonable that the first time there is an issue with your neighbor about noise that you could make contact with them either at the time or talk to them the next day. I think an in-person contact is more appropriate, but you could also leave them a short, polite note indicating that you would appreciate it if they could refrain from loud noise after some reasonable hour.

The definition of "reasonable hour" is certainly debatable, but it may depend on the day of the week with evenings before weekend days being a little later than nights preceding work days. It could also be impacted by your work hours, although if you work unconventional hours then you have to expect that during the day and early evening hours that many people will be having friends over or just making noise in their day-to-day living.

Now that would also assume you are not in fear for your safety or have any reason to believe that your cordial request of your neighbor to be respectful and keep their noise levels down would result in retaliation or threats. Of course, in such an instance, I think it is appropriate to make contact with the apartment community courtesy patrol, as that is a typical responsibility. If it is particularly severe, then you should always contact local law enforcement. Your landlord and the courtesy patrol are not properly trained and equipped to deal with the potential for a violent response. Let local law enforcement know if there are direct threats or if there seems to be damage to your possessions.

There is never an easy answer to these situations, as there are so many variables. If you have a need to verbally contact your neighbor and it seems to be effective, then you will want to do that if the noise level is inappropriate several weeks or months later. But if your neighbor seems to have cooperated just that one time and almost immediately seems to have a memory loss about the need to be respectful, then I do think you need to go to "Step 2," which would be a complaint to the courtesy patrol. I agree with you that this is good because there is now a written record of the complaint.

Again, hopefully, that addresses the issue. If it doesn't, then you need to evaluate the length of time between the disturbances and decide whether to go back to the direct request or make another call to the courtesy patrol.

The other option is what I would call "Step 3." That would be to contact your landlord and make a formal written complaint in writing. Your landlord will very likely send at least a written warning note but could go with a formal legal notice.

At this point, the best you can hope for is that your neighbor gets the message and realizes that continued noise complaints will potentially result in the nonrenewal of their lease or the termination of their tenancy. Of course, it wouldn't be unusual for the neighbor to want to vent their frustration your way -- and you need to be prepared.

If you are getting to this level, then I would suggest you see whether you can get support from some of your neighbors, as this noisy neighbor partying until 3 a.m. is very likely disturbing many people in the apartment community. You can be assured that your noisy neighbor is claiming that you are the one that is unreasonable and have some inappropriate reason to make false claims against them. They may even get their friends in the community to take their side. That is why the courtesy patrol or statements from other tenants (even if they are anonymous but credible) is so important.

Finally, other than the situation I described above where you fear for your safety, I would suggest in a nonthreatening environment that you contact law enforcement only if you are not getting any results from your efforts in the three steps I describe above. I believe that the courtesy patrol should be able to sufficiently document legitimate noise complaints if the landlord needs to terminate a tenancy.

• Property manager Robert Griswold is author of "Property Management for Dummies." Email rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com.

2011, Inman News Features

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