Greg Clarke

Q. How Should I Handle Noisy Neighbors?

A. Noisy is a subjective word. A sound that you consider loud and intrusive might be perceived as simply “music” or “conversation” to someone else. People generally have a right to do as they wish at home—to mow their lawns, to practice piano, or to have friends over for a barbecue. So before you get riled up, ask yourself: Is your neighbors’ noise just everyday hubbub or truly oppressive? (Not sure? Ask your spouse or a levelheaded friend for a second opinion.)

If the noise is annoying but commonplace—like occasional Sunday-afternoon leaf blowing—you’ll have to find a way to live with it. However, if the clamor is excessive or happens at inappropriate hours (say, the leaf blowing starts at dawn), you can and should take action. To figure out how, answer this question: What kind of people are your neighbors? Are they cheerful sorts who socialize at the block party? Or are they standoffish—even hostile?

If you consider these folks to be good neighbors, chances are the noise is unintended. Knock on their door and say, chirpily, “Hi! Sorry to intrude, but could you turn down the music a little? By the way, I love your new deck chairs!” The situation is more delicate with unfriendly neighbors. But they still deserve the benefit of the doubt. First, approach them face-to-face with a polite request to pipe down. If you’re not comfortable doing that, slip a note under their door (avoiding all pejorative language) requesting that they kindly do their edging after 10 a.m. Ideally, things will quiet down. If they don’t, the next time you see them, ask nicely if they received your letter. And if that doesn’t work? You’ll need to call the police. After all, it’s their job to enforce local noise ordinances.

Hopefully, it won’t go that far. Most people want to be neighborly and will correct wayward behavior once it’s pointed out to them. Case in point: A couple recently moved in next door to my brother- and sister-in-law. Turns out, the new neighbors were often loudly amorous. So one afternoon my relatives knocked on the young lovers’ door and said, “We want to let you know that we’re expecting houseguests with children next week. Please let us know if the kids get too noisy.” For emphasis, my sister-in-law added, “As you may have noticed, when you’re trying to sleep, the hedge between our houses doesn’t block sounds.” They never heard another peep (or pant) again.

―Michelle Slatalla