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Neighborly Misconduct

What do you do when your neighbors are breaking the rules?

Last week, my husband and I spent close to two hours listening to a young couple on our street yelling at one another while standing on their driveway.

As a mother of two young children, I understand that sometimes life circumstances and events can lead to shouting, yelling and loud outbursts. However, at 10 p.m., I believe it is my neighbors’ responsibility to keep their rather loud and volatile discussion in their own home.

And as it turns out, we were not the only house on the block that heard them. A quick survey indicated that at least five other households were up and disturbed by the noise.

I am sensitive to the fact that this is an urban area where houses are close together and noise can carry. However, I do believe it is irresponsible, unneighborly and just downright rude to scream and shout on the street in the evening hours. I am also rather adamant that standing outside my house and shouting while my children are most definitely sleeping and I am trying to sleep crosses the line into neighborly misconduct.

I did some research in the Environmental Quality guide of Alexandria and found the chapter entitled "Noise Control." In Sec 11-5-4, it lists the following as one of the violations of the code:

(4) Noise in public places. The making by any person of unreasonably loud or unnecessary noise, including but not limited to that made by the human voice in public places, particularly between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. so as to annoy or disturb unreasonably the comfort, health, welfare, and environment, peace or safety of persons in any office, or in any dwelling, hotel or other type of residence, or of any person in the vicinity.

The police department has a non-emergency phone number for situations such as this. The number is 703-838-4444.

Here is where I run into a problem: I consider myself a nice neighbor. I don’t let my children outside to play before 9 a.m. unless it is a quiet activity that I am closely monitoring. I keep my yard tidy, my trash picked up and my lawn mowed. I do my part to make our street homey, friendly and safe.

The idea of calling the cops on my neighbors makes me feel, well, sneaky. However, these particular neighbors are not people I know well. We don't say much other than the occasional hello. I would not have felt comfortable walking outside in my pajamas and asking them to keep it down while they were engaged in what was very clearly an emotional and stressful argument.

One neighbor told me that she heard the argument when she was standing in her front yard after returning from an evening out. She actually started to feel concerned for her own safety and retreated quickly into her house.

What is the proper neighborhood protocol on complaining about noise, when the noise is coming from your neighbor? There must be a step before calling the police, but how can you communicate with a neighbor you don’t know in a responsible and non-threatening way?

Jen Desautels May 04, 2011 at 05:03 PM
Denise, I definitely agree with you that I could have done something last week when I heard the argument. But I think I should have called the police, not actually gone out to take care of it myself. It was too volatile a situation for me to insert myself. Definite lesson learned here though as just the other night, the same neighbors and their friends were out till after midnight in their front yard- oblivious to the noise level they were creating. This time it wasn't an argument; they were just incredibly loud and inconsiderate.
Adam Gerard May 04, 2011 at 08:37 PM
Related, I've always worried about when is too early or too late to let my dog out into the backyard. I'm lucky to have neighbors that have never complained (or even expressed annoyance) with our barking beagle). But when he's whining at 7am to go outside it's hard to say no, even if I know he's likely going to end up barking.
LG May 04, 2011 at 08:58 PM
I'm not sure that just because someone doesn't complain when you/your kids/your pets make lots of noise it should be assumed that they don't mind...When I have had neighbors with loud barky dogs, I assumed that since they must have been able to hear the barking but took no action, they obviously didn't care that they were waking up the neighborhood on a regular basis, so there was no point in complaining. I didn't know them well and would have really, really appreciated it had they come to me and said "hey, our dog can be loud and we try to keep him in as much as possible, but please let us know if the barking bothers you."
Adam Gerard May 04, 2011 at 09:06 PM
LG, that's reasonable. We know most of our neighbors fairly well and made it clear early on that they should let us know if our dog is bothering them. But you are right that their silence doesn't necessarily mean they aren't bothered by his barking (or noisy kids, or whatever your personal loud thing is). Still, I think it's a good policy to try and talk to your neighbors if they are doing something that bothers you, as long as you feel safe doing that. I know I would welcome a comment from a neighbor if they felt our dog is too loud. However, in Jen's case above, if she were going to do anything, I feel police is the best option just for her own safety.
CJ May 05, 2011 at 04:06 PM
I have been on the receiving end of a complaint about unneighborly conduct. I have two dogs - both bark. I am an extremely conscientious person - sometimes to a fault - and I try to make sure that they don't go out outdoors too early or too late. If they are outdoors and start to bark, I usher them inside as quickly as I can. Months ago, I left town for three days unexpectedly (family emergency). My husband, who works a lot, left the dogs outside most of the time I was gone. After day three, a note was left on the door by a neighbor complaining that we lacked respect. It was unsigned. I was horrified. Still am. If I knew who left it, I would have gone and apologized in person. When we moved in, we spoke with our immediate neighbors and told them to let us know if they were ever annoyed by the dogs (or us for that matter). I appreciate that the police were not called. A note was enough. It was effective. I wish it had been signed. But, other than that, it was a justifiable and good response. This is all just to say that even people who try to be good neighbors can sometimes be "bad" ones. I always try to remember that and to give people the benefit of the doubt. Being a good neighbor can sometimes mean biting your tongue and being understanding. Every situation is different though - when safety issues are a concern, the police might need to be involved. An out of the norm annoyance - bear with it or, if you must do something, handle it by note or a chat.

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