Noisy Neighbors

Stressful noise from neighbors



Talking to the neighbor

Informing the neighbors

Legal path

Questions and answers



Why is the music from a neighbor so stressful?

The main reason is that the rhythm of the music disrupts the brain's rhythm, the activity it's focused on.

The second most important reason is the use of a subwoofer. This is because of the high volume of the bass, volume which is required for people to hear its very low frequencies, and the fact that the walls filter out the medium and high frequencies, allowing the very low frequencies with virtually no influence.

Why is bass felt whereas "normal" sound heard? Because:

  • The bass contains beats (= sound separated by short pauses), of about 1 second, which pass through the walls, forming wall-sized shock waves that envelope the people on the other side, and are felt (not just heard) as percussions / impacts, just like cannon shots are felt. Beats literally feel like someone is hitting you every second or so, especially on the head modifying the blood pressure. It feels like being inside the subwoofer. If this happens for hours, it's torture. If a low frequency sound isn't interrupted, it's perceived as a pressure wave (= hum) instead of a shock wave. The difference between a continuous very low frequency sound and bass beats is like the difference between a hammer pressing on you with a specific force and the hammer hitting you again and again with the same force.

  • The air pressure created by a subwoofer (which generates the audible low frequencies of bass) is much higher than that created by the satellite speakers (which generate the audible high frequencies). Although satellite speakers can also produce low frequencies, they can't produce the volume that's necessary for people to feel those low frequencies in the form of bass.

  • The human ear is much less sensitive to low frequencies than to high frequencies, so a subwoofer's volume (= output energy) has to be increased much more than the volume of the satellite speakers.

  • High frequencies are absorbed by walls much easier, so they are absorbed before they reach the other side. For example, for each doubling of the frequency, a brick wall provides more sound insulation with about 5 dB.

The long-term physiological effects of bass include lack of energy and of will to do things, high blood pressure, heart fluttering (which feels like a butterfly's touch), stomach and esophagus burning sensations.

Silence promotes brain development and intelligence. This is because silence frees the brain from being busy handling external situations, frees it for introspection, allowing it to follow its own rhythm.

Talking to the neighbor

When trying to find out from where sound is coming, be aware that simply listening from inside of your home is pointless. Sound, especially bass, can appear to come from one place but actually comes from the opposite direction. To find out the source, you have to listen to doors because they have the lowest sound insulation.

If you ever feel the need to ask a neighbor to turn the music down, instead of this, depending on your situation, you should tell the neighbor any of the following:

  • Hearing unwanted music (from you) stresses me. Please listen using (wireless) headphones. There are wireless headphones (either WiFi or Bluetooth) whose sound clarity is much better than that of most bookshelf speakers. It's true that they will not shake your body with bass, but they also don't stress your neighbors.

  • Hearing unwanted music (from you) stresses me. Please turn the volume so low that I don't hear it anymore.

  • Your subwoofer can be heard for a long time, and it's very stressing. Please turn the subwoofer / bass off. (Most subwoofers which come with satellite speakers can't be turned off independently from the satellites, so the subwoofer's volume should be turned to the minimum, but this might not be effective because such subwoofers still have a significant minimum volume.)

  • (If the neighbor doesn't stop the music:) Law X, article Y gives me the right to quiet, it does not give you the right to make me suffer.

If you argue with the neighbor, he will treat you as if you are lacking the knowledge and determination to use the legal path to make him stop, and will continue making noise.

Informing the neighbors

Below is a sample of a written information that you can use to inform all the neighbors about their legal rights.

Check the text with a layer in your country.

The purpose of this text is to inform everyone of their legal right to have quiet in their homes.

Here is an excerpt from the public disturbance law:

[Excerpt from the public disturbance law in your country.]

[If the law has separate language for "quiet hours" and "can't disturb others without a right", keep the 3 paragraphs below.]

The expression "quiet hours" doesn't mean that the rest of the hours are "noisy hours" during which noise can be made. Within the quiet hours a person may not cause public disturbance for any reason, while outside the quiet hours a person must have a legal right to a cause public disturbance, that is, a right given a by law. Such a right may be given, for example, by construction laws which allow home renovations.

It's understandable that people want to think that they have the right to listen to music. It's generally thought that what the law doesn't expressly forbid, it's legal. From a legal point of view, this is incorrect. In legal language there is a subtlety which escapes colloquial language. When an action is not expressly forbidden, it means that it's not expressly illegal (so it's allowed), but it's not legal either, that is, there is no legal right to perform it.

Because of this, there is no legal right to listen to music, and no legal right to disturb others with loud music. Listening to music is a possibility, not a right, whereas there is a right to make home renovations (covered by construction legislation).

Listening to loud music is not comparable to other noises normally made in a home because it's usually listened to for a long time, whereas other noises are short. Other noises also have no bass, no continuous beat and no rhythm, the way music has.

While someone might think that they rarely listen to loud music, so they are exempt, when several people from an apartment building do the same, loud music is no longer a rare event. Also note that the law contains no exemptions.

While the meaning of "loud" is subjective, keep in mind that apartment buildings don't have any phonic insulation, so any noise which is louder than normal talking and lasts long enough can stress the neighbors.

Please don't use subwoofers and keep the music volume low, or use (wireless) headphones.

If someone listens to loud music, it constitutes a fineable offense, and if someone else makes a complaint to the police, the police is obligated to apply the law.

What can you do if you feel that the neighbor is torturing you with noise? Talking to the neighbor may work in some cases, but some neighbors may become verbally or physically aggressive. The law doesn't require that you talk to the neighbor, so you can directly call the police.

If the police can't or won't do anything to improve your situation, or if the noisy neighbor doesn't stop after the conversations with the police or even after being fined, talking to a lawyer helps you to understand how you can use an authoritative way, like a lawyer or a judge, to explain to the neighbor what your and his rights are.

If this fails as well, the lawyer can guide you through the process of opening a lawsuit, of choosing witnesses (from among other neighbors, or potential buyers or renters of your home), and, possibly, how to get medical evidence that the neighbor is torturing you with noise.

This information has been reviewed for correctness by a lawyer.

Legal path

What can you do if you have a neighbor who tortures you with music, and who will not stop even after you call the police?

First of all you should know the law (of your country), and inform the noisy neighbor about both your legal rights. The neighbor might believe that he has a right to listen to music in a way that affects you.

It's very unlikely that your country has a law which gives someone the legal right to cause a public disturbance with music. However, most likely, your country has a law which gives people the right to quiet. If you are in doubt, ask yourself if you know of any law that allows someone to cause a public disturbance with music. If you don't know of any such law then you can safely presume that such a right doesn't exist.

This means that if the neighbor wants to listen to music at home, he must do so in a way which doesn't disturb you, like by using wireless headphones.

Some people want to believe that they have a (legal) right to listen to music even if they disturb their neighbors. Such a right doesn't exist. The right to listen to music doesn't exist (it's very unlikely that there is a country where such a right exists). People can listen to music, it's possible to listen to music, it's not illegal to listen to music, but there is no right that lets people listen to music, and most certainly there is no right that lets people make others suffer. Arguments like "there is no right to breathe either" are fallacious because there is a fundamental right to life, breathing is a biological need for life and doesn't hurt others. The laws of nature don't have to be legislated; experts in each field can testify about them.

During your conversations, some neighbors might start defending themselves by diverting the discussion with a fallacious argument, like saying that they can't even flush the toilet because that disturbs you. On one hand, flushing the toilet takes a few seconds of low volume noise that has no rhythm and beats. On the other hand, generally, people who disturb their neighbors with music, listen for a long time, especially at night; on top of this the music has beats which feel like a hammer for a long time.

Another fallacious argument is "You have a problem! You are old!" In this case, your answer could be "Okay, I have a problem, so what? The law gives me the right to quiet, it does not give you the right to make me suffer."

The law in your country might, for example, say that it's a fineable offense to cause a public disturbance through any noise creating means: 1) without a right, 2) during the quiet hours (between 22:00 and 08:00).

Most people get confused by this language because they interpret that, since there are "quiet hours", the rest are "noisy hours" during which noise can be made. This is not so. This legal language means that within the quiet hours a person may not cause public disturbance for any reason, while outside the quiet hours a person must have a legal right to a cause public disturbance, that is, a right given a by law. Such a right may be given, for example, by construction laws which allow home renovations, or by a permit which is issued by the city hall to hold a concert. Even someone who has a permit to make noise on a regular basis can be fined, or the permit can be revoked, if the noise breaks environmental laws.

If this legal information fails, talk to a lawyer. A lawsuit is a long, expensive and complicated procedure, but the idea of a lawsuit might be enough for the noisy neighbor to think at the consequences and stop.

The lawsuit is not conditioned by the existence of a public disturbance law. Besides, you (probably) can't sue someone based of a law whose punishment is only a small fine.

If you own the home, you could try to sell it and if the buyers refuse to buy because they don't want to live in a noisy place, you can sue that neighbor for devaluation of property or material loss, in order to recover the price (difference).

If selling your home is not an option (because you could end up in the same situation), you could try to rent it. If the renters leave because of the neighbor's music, or if the renting agency blacklists your home from being rentable, you can sue the neighbor for loss of income (for example, to be paid monthly every time a renter leaves before the end of a month because of the music). In this case the renters can be independent witnesses who may have even lived in your home and personally experienced the neighbor's music.

Again, if selling is not an option, you could try to sue that neighbor for psychological torture. In this case, you will likely have to prove that loud music, bass in particular, have on you an effect similar to torture. For this you will likely have to provide the court a medical evidence, like a medical certificate, regarding the effects of that kind of noise.

To get this evidence, you will have to reproduce the noisy conditions in a controlled environment, and have medical doctors measure various biological characteristics, like pulse, blood pressure and levels of stress hormones (like cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine). You can also make a test to show that a continuous sound of a very low frequency emitted by a subwoofer has very little effect compared to an interrupted sound of the same frequency (= the beats from music).

The stress that the controlled environment may cause you would be lower than that produce by the real environment, because in the controlled environment you can stop the experiment whenever you want (so the mental pressure is much lower).

Pulse and blood pressure that are elevated for long periods of time have been associated (in medical studies) to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, to the point of a severe risk of cardiovascular arrest and stroke.

Cortisol is meant to produce the "fight or flight" response in case of danger, but in the absence of a choice, its effects are physically destructive.

This kind of torture can even lead to temporary insanity; there was a case of someone who shot and killed a noisy neighbor (who wouldn't stop playing loud music).

How do you prove the noise levels? Aside from the police reports, there are the rest of the neighbors and the renters. There are also some accredited governmental agencies (like the Environmental Agency) and private companies that can perform noise measurements on request.

You might want or need to emphasize the distinction between lengthy noises that are part of life and can't be avoided, like renovating an apartment, and noises that can be avoided, like music (since it's possible to listen to music with headphones or in venues that phonically insulated).

If the noise is coming from a neighboring public place, like a park, you can ask the city hall (who probably administers it) to make specific changes to the park, like dismantling the park furniture (like tables) around which the noise makers gather. If the city hall doesn't respond to your request (check the legal time limit in your country) or refuses to make the changes you requested, you can sue them for the same reasons as above.

Questions and answers

Measuring noise intensity

If you want to measure the noise yourself (which has no legal relevance), you need a sonometer that can detect sound with frequencies below 20 Hz and intensities below 20 dB.

There are several types of dB (dBA, dBV, dBP), and all measurements have to be performed with the same type; for human perception, dBA is usually used (including in laws).

The sonometer must be multiband, meaning that it has to be able to show the sound intensity for separate frequency bands.

Don't waste your money on a sonometer which doesn't have these features.

Does phonic insulation help?

If very low frequencies (bass) is what's stressing you, then phonic insulation can't help. To be able to relax, you would have to eliminate the bass, not simply reduce it. Very low frequencies can't be stopped even with professional phonic insulation. You would literally need a home inside a home, with tens of centimeters of professional phonic insulation in between them. Save your money for moving elsewhere.

Even worse, phonic insulation would block all higher sound frequencies, so the very low frequencies, even if at a reduced intensity, would remain the only thing that your ear focuses on, so they would be more stressing.

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