8News Investigates: What Are Your Rights When It Comes to Noisy Neighbors

Noisy neighbors keeping you up?

Several 8News viewers reached out to us for help. These viewers believe their complaints about noise have fallen on deaf ears.

The City of Richmond has a noise ordinance but 8News Investigator Kerri O’Brien uncovers Richmond Police are having trouble enforcing it. 8News has learned since the city’s ordinance went into effect in 2011, there have been thousands of complaints but only a handful of citations.

Last year the Richmond Police Department received more than 6,000 noise complaints. Of those, only 19 citations were issued. In 2012, nearly 6,000 complaints were submitted but just 39 tickets handed down. In addition, in 2011, nearly 7,000 complaints poured into police but only 23 noisy neighbors were fined.

“I have called the police, ” says Richmond resident Robin Spears. Spears told 8News that a neighbor at her apartment complex keeps her up at night.

“She plays her music excessively all night long,” Spears explained. “She literally starts early in the day and does not end till early in the morning.”

8News reviewed police calls for service to her address and we can see, within the past year, officers have responded to her “unnecessary noise” complaints 14 times. Spears tells us her neighbor has never been cited.

“They have all said they same thing,” said Spears. “They say it is extremely loud but they can’t measure it.”

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, 8News was able to see the police department used public tax dollars to purchase 15 handheld sound level devices, totaling $40,000.

“Every precinct has them,” says Richmond Police Deputy Chief Eric English

The issue lies in that not every officer carries a noise meters due to there not being enough of the devices to outfit every officer with. Also, with holidays and shift changes, there’s a good chance the officer responding the noise complaint isn’t trained to use the noise meter and won’t have it on them. 8News has also been told officers do have the discretion to give a noisy neighbor a warning rather than a ticket.

“Sometimes the best method is to see if you can get compliance from the the individual to turn it down and if they do that there is no reason to issue a ticket,” says English.

But, the big reason for the disparity in the number of complaints to citations could lie within the language of the ordinance.

“A lot of the time when officers do respond, it doesn’t meet the threshold in order for them to issue a citation,” says English.

What’s considered an excessive decibel level can vary depending on whether it is coming from inside or outside of a structure. Also, not all noise complaints are measured the same way.

For instance, for a single family home, excessive noise heard anywhere on the property could lead to a ticket. But, for a multi-family dwelling like Spears’ apartment, it has to be “measured from a point at least four feet from the wall, ceiling or floor.”

Police tell us sometimes their hands are tied.

English says, “That maybe something that needs to be reviewed, looked to see if there are any tweaks that need to be made to the ordinance itself.”

Copyright 2014 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond

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