Are you tired of your neighbor's dog barking all night or your neighbors playing loud music at all hours of the day? You have not been able to work from home or sleep well at night due to your loud neighbors. In this article, we cover some of your options of how to handle loud neighbors.
Here is an overview of what we will cover:
Communication is key- talk to your neighbor about the noise.
Mediation as an option of resolving the noise complaint.
Call the police to report a noise complaint.
Consider suing in small claims.
Talk to your neighbor about the noise
The first thing to do when your neighbor is being loud is to communicate with your neighbor. As neighbors, you have an ongoing relationship with each other and you will probably live next to each other for the foreseeable future. If you have never told your neighbor that they are being too loud, they may not have realized it or they may not have realized that the loud music was bothering you.
Here are some tips to use when you are communicating with your noisy neighbor:
Have them try to step in your shoes so they understand how you feel as this may help them understand why you would like them to stop playing loud music at night. For example, you have to get up early to go to work, you are trying to sleep train your newborn, etc.
Brainstorm options that work for the both of you. For example, your neighbor won't stop playing loud music at night because they are preparing for a concert recital. Is there a time when you are ok with your neighbor playing loud music?
If your neighbor is renting the place, you can also try communicating with their landlord to see if that will help.
Mediation as an option of resolving your dispute
What is mediation?
Mediation is a meeting between you, your neighbor, and a neutral person called the mediator. A mediator will facilitate a conversation between you and your neighbor regarding the noise complaint. They will help you brainstorm solutions and help you and your neighbor come to a solution. Mediation tends to be very successful between neighbors as you have a longstanding relationship and a relationship that will likely continue for the foreseeable future.
How can I try to mediate the dispute with my neighbor?
Many organizations provide free or low-cost mediation. Run a google search for "mediation near me" and you will find one of the many organizations providing mediation. Many times they are run by volunteer mediators.
Many small claims courts also have free mediation available. Each county runs their small claims mediation a bit differently so reach out to us for more information on your court. You can either obtain free mediation before filing a small claims lawsuit or after you file your lawsuit but before the small claims hearing.
File a noise complaint with the police
Many police departments have special webpages dedicated to reporting noise complaints or "nuisance" complaints as they are very common. Run a google search for your local police department for the dedicated phone number for noise complaints.
Here are some of the most common types of noise complaints:
Loud appliances like tv's or speakers.
Garbage collection trucks.
Some cities have a special department that handles complaints involving animals. For example, in Los Angeles the City's Animal Care and Control Department handles complaints involving animal nuisances.
What happens after I have filed a noise complaint:
The police may cite your neighbor with a fine.
The police may ask your neighbor to turn off the loud noise.
If the police have received several complaints, they may refer the complaint to the City Attorney's office.
If you have already filed a noise complaint and tried talking with your neighbor but your neighbor continues being loud, it may be time to escalate the situation by going to court.
Consider Suing Your Noisy Neighbor in Small Claims
Overview of Noise Complaints in Small Claims
We often receive the question, can I sue my neighbor for being too loud in California small claims?
The answer is yes, but make sure to save your evidence! Evidence is key to being successful in small claims. More on evidence below.
You must also be able to determine how much you are suing for as you cannot just file the lawsuit to stop your neighbor from being loud. In California, there is a requirement that you list exactly how much you are suing for on the lawsuit and why you are suing for that amount (the maximum you can sue for is $10,000).
Many times, these noise complaint lawsuits are settled before the small claims hearing as your neighbor may agree to voluntarily stop being loud since they know you are serious about pursuing your small claims lawsuit.
Other times, at the small claims hearing, the judge will push for a settlement between you in your neighbor before deciding on your lawsuit. For example, the judge will ask your neighbor if they will stop playing their music at all hours of the night and your neighbor will agree. The judge will ask you if you are ok with setting a "compliance date" which means a new hearing in 1 to 2 months where you can come back to small claims court if your neighbor has not stopped being loud. If your neighbor stops being loud, you don't have to come back to the next hearing date. If your neighbor continues to be loud, then you will need to go back to the next hearing date where the judge will decide your lawsuit and how much you are owed.
You can also read the story about the California residents that filed hundreds of small claims lawsuits against the San Francisco Airport over excessive noise.
Benefits of small claims court:
Suing in regular court is more expensive, time-consuming, and complicated.
You cannot hire an attorney to represent you in small claims court making it cheaper.
Hearings in small claims court are scheduled 30-75 days after the lawsuit is filed.
Your neighbor may agree to stop playing loud music without even going to the small claims hearing. If they agree to stop, you can close the small claims lawsuit.
Keep in mind that your relationship with your neighbor will likely not be the same after suing them, but if you have already tried everything possible and they still won't stop, small claims may be your only option left.
What to do before suing over a noise complaint
Save All Evidence of the Noise
You want to make sure to save all evidence related to the noise complaint. Here are some examples of evidence to save:
Videos or voice notes of the noise. Try to take a video or a voice note each time you hear your neighbors being loud. You can take the videos from different places of your home. Make sure you save the date, time, location, and who took the video. At the hearing, you can tell the judge you would like to show them the videos of what the noise was like.
Keep a noise log. Take a piece of paper and each time you hear your neighbor making excessive noise, write down the date, time, and a description. This would be great to pair with video evidence.
Copy of any noise complaints you have filed with the police. You are able to obtain these from your local police departments or they may have already given you a copy.
Did you try to noise proof your home? For example, did you spend money trying to upgrade your windows to try to block out the noise or have a contractor come to your house to see what could be done. Save copies of all your receipts or efforts.
Written conversations you have had with your neighbor (text messages, emails, etc) about the noise.
Timeline of events. You can create a timeline of events like when the noise began, when you spoke with your neighbor about the noise, when you filed a police report, how often you have heard the noise, etc.
Witnesses. Has anyone else in your house experienced your noisy neighbors? They can write a letter to bring with you to the court or go with you to court as a witness.
Send a Demand Letter
A demand letter is a letter that outlines a set of requests. For example, you could write to your neighbor to request that they please stop being loud. If you eventually decide to sue in California small claims court, you are required to first request that your neighbors stop the noise before you can file the lawsuit. While you can request that your neighbors stop making noise orally, it is suggested you do so in writing in the form of a demand letter.
It is very common to ask your neighbor to stop being loud via text message or by phone but you may have a higher chance of getting them to take you seriously if you do so in the form of a letter. Letters are oftentimes taken more seriously than demands for payment via text message or phone.
What to include in the demand letter?
Unsure of what to include in your demand letter to your neighbor? Here are a few suggestions:
How much noise they are making (excessive noise, etc.)
Why the noise is disturbing (very loud, hours, etc.).
Your contact information.
Option to mediate your dispute (there are many organizations in California that provide free or low-cost mediation and most courts also have free mediation available).
Give them a few days to respond (usually about 7 to 14 days) or enough time to see if your neighbors will stop being loud.
Let them know that if they don't respond, you intend to sue because you didn't feel like they left you with an alternative.
How much it costs to sue your neighbor in small claims.
It costs between $30-$75 to file a small claims lawsuit against a neighbor.
Once the lawsuit is filed, your neighbor has to be notified that a lawsuit has been filed against them. This is called serving. You can serve for free if you have a friend or family member deliver the lawsuit to your neighbor or you can pay between $40-$75 to have the lawsuit professionally served.
If you are on California public benefits like Medi-cal, Food Stamps, SSI, you pay $0 in court fees and serving costs.
How to file a small claims lawsuit against your neighbor
Step 1: Complete "Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court" (Form SC-100)
This form starts the California Small Claims Court lawsuit process. Download here.
It is also known as the "complaint" or "claim."
Make sure you sue the person or persons who are responsible for the noise or who bear responsibility for the noise.
Step 2: File "Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court"
Each California Small Claims Court has a different procedure for filing. You have to check with your local small claims court whether they allow filing in-person, by mail, online, or by fax. Or we can file your small claims lawsuit for you!
Step 3: Serve your neighbor
Once you file your California small claims court lawsuit, the next step is to notify your neighbor that they have been sued. This is called "service of process" (also known as "service"). You must serve your neighbor at least 15-20 days before the small claims court hearing (sometimes you are required to serve at least 30 days before the hearing). There are several ways you can serve your neighbor including by having a friend serve, hiring a process server, or hiring the sheriff. You cannot serve your own lawsuit. We can help you with serving the small claims lawsuit.
The Small Claims Court Hearing
Once you file your small claims lawsuit, you will get a hearing date scheduled anywhere between 30-70 days later. During this time, your neighbor may call you to try and settle the case or they may stop making noise all together. If you come to an agreement, you can close your small claims lawsuit.
To prepare for your small claims court hearing:
Research the law. See if there are any local ordinances that regulate noise in your area. If you are unsure about what laws relate to your lawsuit, consult an attorney or conduct your own research about the law (a quick Google search goes a long way). Remember, you don't need to necessarily cite a specific law (unless you are basing your legal theories on a very unknown subject area), you just need to be able to prove that you are "right" and your neighbor is "wrong." Sometimes this can be as simple as showing the judge your evidence of excess noise.
Prepare your evidence. Videos, audio recordings, etc. Anything that shows the judge how much noise your neighbors were making and your efforts to get them to stop making noise so you could comfortably enjoy your home. You want to have your evidence organized with titles, dates, and why that piece of evidence is important. All your evidence should be geared towards showing the judge why you should win. Remember, it is not good to show up to court without any documents or receipts. The judge wants to be able to base their decision on the evidence. We can assist you with organizing your evidence for your small claims hearing!
Prepare what to say. During the hearing, the judge will ask you why you are suing your neighbor. You want to make sure you start with a broad statement like this: "Your honor, I am suing my neighbor in small claims court today because they have continuously played loud music at all hours of the night for the past 2 months. I have not been able to get any sleep and I have had to upgrade my windows costing me $5,0000." Then go into the details and your evidence.
Get your receipts for costs ready. For example, your filing fees and any process server costs. Make sure to let the judge know that you would like to be reimbursed for these costs.
Print enough copies of all your evidence. You will need at least three copies of your evidence (one for you, one for the judge, one for your neighbor).
Are attorneys allowed in small claims court?
Attorneys are not allowed to represent you or your neighbor at the initial hearing. If your neighbor loses the small claims lawsuit and appeals (meaning they lost and want the judge to decide again) then attorneys are allowed to represent the parties at the appeal hearing.
Chief Legal Architect & Co-Founder @ People Clerk. Camila is an attorney, consumer advocate, and certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.