Noisy Neighbors

Stressful noise from neighbors




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Introduction

Talking to the neighbor

Informing the neighbors

Public disturbance law

Legal path

Studies

Questions and answers

Wireless headphones



Noisette


Introduction

Why is the music from a neighbor so stressful?

Unwanted music is stressful because its rhythm disrupts the rhythms of the brain and heart, of the activity that people are focused on (including relaxing), most likely because they have similar periodicities.

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 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. This means that 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 usually produce the volume that's necessary for people to feel those low frequencies in the form of bass. The walls and the body start to resonate at very low frequencies (those from bass), and this amplifies the energy of the shockwaves.

  • 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.

A radio set can't normally generate low frequencies, which is why it sounds "tiny". It's unlikely for a radio set to be heard by neighbors, unless its volume is very high.

Silence promotes brain development. 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:

  • Please don't use a subwoofer when listening to music because it's making the walls vibrate, which is very stressful because it feels like being inside a subwoofer. (Most subwoofers which come with satellite speakers can't be turned off independently from the satellites, and even if the subwoofer's volume is turned to the minimum, you might still hear the bass. Also, some satellite speakers can generate bass that's loud enough to feel.)

  • You have a subwoofer which is making the walls vibrate, which is very stressful because it feels like being inside a subwoofer. Please don't used a subwoofer.

  • Please listen using (wireless) headphones. There are wireless headphones (either WiFi or Bluetooth) whose sound clarity is much better than that of most (standalone) speakers. It's true that they will not shake your body with bass, but they also don't stress your neighbors. Here is a small tutorial.

  • Please turn the volume so low that I don't hear it anymore. (If you ask the neighbor to turn the music down, you'll likely still hear it and that will stress you and you will have to ask again and again until the neighbor starts listening to headphones.)

  • Hearing unwanted music (from you) is very stressful. (It makes me suffer.)

  • (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.

It might be useful to put in mailboxes of all the nearby neighbors a written information about everyone's legal rights regarding noise.

If the noise is coming from a nearby apartment building and you don't have access in it, try to get access inside either from a neighbor from that building or from the homeowner association of that building. If none helps, contact a layer so you can go through the legal system in order to force the home owner association to allow you access, so that you can put the written information in the mailboxes, identify the noisy neighbor (if you can't otherwise do it), and to possibly also give access to the police when they respond to a complaint.



Informing the neighbors

Below is a sample of a written information that you can use to inform all the neighbors about their legal rights. You could put a printed copy in the mailbox of each nearby neighbor, or, if you live in an apartment building, you could try to display the information where everyone can see it (but you might need the approval of the home owner association).

Note that the applicable law from your country is likely different than what's included in the sample. Check the law in your country and modify the text, preferably together with a lawyer.

Localized information: Romania.

This is an information about the public disturbance law.

The following types of noises are stressful for neighbors because they are impact noises which make the walls vibrate on great distances: music (especially bass), slamming doors (instead of pressing the door handle), walking on high heels on hard surfaces (like parquet and tile), running and playing with a ball inside.

Please do not use a subwoofer and keep the music volume lower than that of a normal conversation, or use (wireless) headphones.

Slamming a door wears its rubber gasket much faster than pressing the door handle.

It's a fineable offence to cause a public disturbance at any time of day, in any day, with any means, at any perceptible volume (not just audible), both from the inside and outside of the buildings (for example from parking lots), without a right (right which is given by a law).



Excerpt from the public disturbance law [law number]:

Any of the following constitutes a fineable offence:

  • Causing a public disturbance, without right.

  • Causing a public disturbance within the hours 22:00 and 08:00.

  • Causing a public disturbance from the vicinity of buildings.



The first bullet establishes a general frame of reference. It means that causing a public disturbance is a fineable offence at any time of day, except when the noise occurs while exercising a right. Such a right arises, for example, from construction law, law which allows the construction and renovation of buildings.

The second bullet restricts the general frame of reference to a particular one. It means that causing a public disturbance between 22:00 and 08:00 constitutes a fineable offence regardless of whether this has happened with or without right.

Some people believe that they have a right to listen to music. 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 possible), but it's not expressly legal either, so exercising it isn't a right. Because of this, there is no legal right to listen to music and to cause a public disturbance with music.

Because the law doesn't specify a minimum noise volume which constitutes a public disturbance, if the noise can be heard by the neighbors who therefore feel stressed, it means there is a public disturbance.

Because the law doesn't specify that a public disturbance must be audible, it means that it can also be perceptible, so it's enough for the noise to be felt (for example, the bass can also be felt).

Any noise which at its source is louder than a normal conversation and lasts a long time will end up stressing the neighbors, especially if the noise has rhythm or bass. Please do not use a subwoofer and keep the music volume lower than that of a normal conversation, or use (wireless) headphones. Unwanted music, specifically its rhythm and bass, can severely affect people's well being and health.

What can be done if someone feels stressed by a neighbor's music? Talking to that 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 problem isn't resolved by calling the police, it's possible to file a written complaint after the fact. A complaint has more weight if it's signed by several neighbors.

If this doesn't work either, it's possible to talk to a lawyer to obtain an injunction which forbids the noisy neighbor to disturb the other neighbors with music. If this doesn't work either, the lawyer can advise what options exist. These options can include the attempt to sell the home and, if this doesn't happen due to the neighbor's noise, suing the neighbor for devaluation of property, or even suing for torture.

The lawyer can guide you through the process of choosing witnesses (from among other neighbors, or potential buyers or renters of your home) and, in the worst case, how to get medical evidence that the neighbor's music is felt like torture.

This information has been reviewed for correctness by a lawyer.



Public disturbance law

Know the public disturbance law of your country. Also 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. You may want to start here.

It's very unlikely that your country has a law which gives someone the legal right to cause a public disturbance with music. However, it's possible that 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 or bass. On the other hand, generally, people who disturb their neighbors with music listen for a long time (like hours), especially at night; on top of this the music has beats which feel like a hammer for all that 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 specific hours (like between 22:00 and 08:00).

Most people get confused by this language because they interpret that, since there are specific hours for silence, then noise can be made during the rest of the time. This is not so. This legal language means that within the specific hours a person may not cause a public disturbance for any reason, while outside the specific hours a person must have a legal right to a cause public disturbance, that is, a right which is given by a 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.

Laws that deal with public disturbance might not make a distinction between avoidable noises (like music) and unavoidable noises (like construction, renovation, cleaning); this becomes especially important when the law specifies a minimum noise threshold (in dBA) for what constitutes a public disturbance. Because of this, it's important that the law includes expressions like "can't cause a public disturbance without right", where a right must be expressly given by law. This is useful because it's very unlikely that (anywhere in the world) the law gives the right to produce avoidable noises (like music), but it's very likely to give the right to conduct activities which produce unavoidable noises (like construction and renovation).



Legal path

What can you do if you have a neighbor who tortures you with music?

Calling the police to hear live the neighbor's music is not the only thing which can be done. If the problem is not resolved by calling the police, it's possible to file a written complaint after the fact, and the police should be able to fine the noisy neighbor, especially if the complaint is signed by several other neighbors. If this fails as well, you can talk to a lawyer about obtaining an injunction which forbids the neighbor to disturb you with music. If this also fails, the lawyer can advise you about your options. These options include trying to sell your home and, if this fails because of the neighbor's noise, suing the neighbor for full financial loss, but also include suing the neighbor for torture.

The lawyer should be able guide you through the process 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.

Before you do any of these things, you should know the law (of your country), and inform the noisy neighbor about both your legal rights.

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.

Before getting to a lawsuit, try to obtain an injunction which expressly forbids the neighbor to disturb you with music. The injunction informs the neighbor, in a legally authoritative way, what your and his legal rights are. If the neighbor breaks the injunction and you prove this with witnesses, like police or other neighbors, the punishment will be severe, not just a small fine that the neighbor can avoid paying. There were cases of people who were sent to jail for breaking an injunction order that forbade them to disturb their neighbors with music.

Before a lawsuit, you should make sure to inform the neighbor, in a legally provable manner, that you feel his noise is torture to you. This way, the noise that the neighbor makes after being informed becomes intentional torture, something which will have significant impact in a lawsuit.

The lawsuit is not conditioned by the existence of a public disturbance law. Besides, you can't (normally) sue someone based on 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 music that comes through walls, 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. You could start by reading this.

The noisy neighbor might argue that there are no studies which show that noise has the same effect as torture on people, and that there is no known mechanism through which noise would have the same effect as torture. While such studies would make your case easy, they are not necessary. You don't have to prove what the noisy neighbor is arguing for.

You should argue that you are the one suing the neighbor for the effect the noise has on you, not on the general population, not on the subjects of a study. Whatever the trigger mechanism is, physical or psychological, the neighbor's music has the effect of torture on your body. Medical evidence can prove that once music starts, your body responds in a manner which is very similar to extreme stress.

To get the medical evidence, you will have to reproduce the noisy conditions (like music coming through walls) 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). It might be useful to try to perform a task that you normally do (when the neighbor's noise affects you).

You will need to include baselines before the noise starts and after the noise ends (allow some time to pass), to show that only the presence of the neighbor's noise produces extreme stress in your body.

Music beats, which are especially powerful in bass, are a special kind of interruptions, a kind designed to create an impact (= a shockwave) not just a change between sound and silence. On top of this, when beats go through walls, they create reverberations (that is, longer beats) which amplify the effect of the original beats.

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

If the neighbor makes noise at predictable times, you can collect the required medical information in your home.

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.

What kind of physician would be most qualified for the collection of this medical evidence? One that deals with stress would likely be best; the next best choice would probably be an endocrinologist.

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.

In front of a judge, emphasize the facts below and say that the law should take them into consideration because they make all the difference:

  • Some noises are part of life and can't be avoided, like renovating an apartment and road traffic, and some noises can be avoided, like music (since it's possible to listen to music with headphones or in venues that are sound insulated).

  • Unwanted music is stressful because its rhythm disrupts the rhythms of the brain and heart, of the activity that people are focused on (including relaxing).

  • Very low frequencies (like music bass) can also be felt, not only heard.

  • Music beats, especially bass, feel like someone is hitting you with a hammer in the head every second, increasing your blood pressure. This is particularly unhealthy if it happens for a long time.

  • If the law specifies an allowed maximum noise volume, but it doesn't make a distinction between sound patterns: Sound patterns make sound perception very different. For example, if a low frequency sound isn't interrupted, it's perceived as a pressure wave (= hum), while an interrupted sound, especially music beats, is perceived as shock waves, that is, like a hammer hitting you again and again.

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 facilitating the noise and therefore your suffering.



Studies



Environmental noise and sleep

These studies are related to the issue, but not directly, so they are more informative than pertinent.

WHO - Burden of disease from environmental noise

  • "The total burden of health effects from environmental noise would be greater than one million years in western Europe, even with the most conservative assumptions that avoid any possible duplication."

Noise Exposure and Public Health (Willy Passchier-Vermeer, Wim Passchier)

Sleep increases chromosome dynamics to enable reduction of accumulating DNA damage in single neurons

Silence promotes brain development

Testing the AC/DC hypothesis: Rock and roll is noise pollution and weakens a trophic cascade



Questions and answers



Measuring noise volume

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 volumes below 20 dB.

There are many types of dB, but all measurements have to be performed with the same type. For human perception, dBA is usually used (including in legislation).

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

Don't waste your money on a sonometer which doesn't have these features, but note that the ones that do have them are extremely expensive.



How is noise volume perceived?

The lowest volume of sound that the average healthy and young person can hear is about 0 dB for a continuous tone of 1'000 Hz. You can read details here.

Sound can still be present even at volumes lower than 0 dB, but humans can't normally hear it. This is because 0 dB is not complete silence, but a threshold for normal human hearing.

Because dB is a logarithmic scale, each subtracted 10 dB are perceived as a sound that's half as intense. Each added 10 dB are perceived as a sound that's twice as intense. Each 3 dB represent a doubling / halving of the energy of the sound.

All around, there usually is background noise which covers a lot of faint sounds; for example, an empty broadcast studio has a background noise around 20 dB. However, a persistent and percussive noise, like bass, might be heard or just felt through the background noise (especially because this is not necessarily continuous), and this may be disturbing.

A refrigerator usually produces about 40...45 dBA of noise (only high frequencies, no bass), at 1 m distance, in the noisiest stage.

Most people should be able to sleep well even if in the room there is a fan (like from an air purifier) which generates a continuous noise with a volume below 30 dBA. If the noise has beats, especially in the very low frequencies, the volume has to be much lower, as close to 0 dBA as possible, because there is no background noise which can cover the beats. A deep, regenerative sleep requires the complete absence of very low frequencies, and an almost complete absence of the higher frequencies.



Does sound insulation help?

If very low frequencies (bass) is what's stressing you, then sound 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 sound insulation. You would literally need a home inside a home, with tens of centimeters of professional sound insulation in between them. Save your money for moving elsewhere.

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



Where to move?

If you want move, you should go away from the city center, in the suburbs, away from busy roads. The area should not have business buildings, and there should be no buildings where many people live (like apartment buildings).

Look for a standalone home, one which is not connected to a building where other people live.

The much smaller density of people, combined with the lack of connected walls, significantly reduces the probability of being disturbed by noise.



Wireless headphones

Wireless headphones, WiFi or Bluetooth, can provide a sound clarity which is much better than that of most (standalone) speakers. Some headphones have both WiFi and Bluetooth.

Headphones can only make you hear the bass, they can't make you feel it on your body (like subwoofers can), but they also don't stress the neighbors.

The headphones whose ear pieces completely surround your ears are usually the best for comfort (because they don't press your ears) and sound quality (because they have the space to contain more technology).

If you hear short interruptions in the sound of the headphones, increase the volume of the source (PC or smartphone). The emitter is optimized to cut power when sound volume drops to near silence, so the headphones don't receive anything during very quiet periods.



WiFi

WiFi headphones come packaged with a base station. The base station has to be connected through a cable to the headphones output of a TV, portable radio, computer or standalone music player. The headphones themselves connect to their base station through WiFi, to receive the sound, and this wireless connection lets you move around from room to room, while the base station and the sound playing device stay in the initial room.

Proper headphones don't have a problem if between the base station and the headphones there is one wall made from reinforced concrete, but two such walls will likely be.

There are models of headphones which allow you to connect several of them to a single base station, so that several people can listen to the same sound, at the same time. Usually, you can't buy a single base station and several headphones, you have to buy as many headphones as you need, each packed together with its base station; this is not a price issue because the expensive part is made by the headphones, not by the base station.

The headphones can be placed on the base station to recharge the batteries. When the batteries are new and full, they can let you listen to music even for 20 hours.

Proper headphones contain rechargeable batteries, usually one in each ear piece, which can be replaced when their charge lasts too little time (like just a few hours). For some headphones, in order to open the compartment of the batteries you have to rotate (in opposite directions) the outside and the inside halves of each ear piece.



Bluetooth

Bluetooth headphones are usually made to work with a music playing device which contains a Bluetooth emitter, like a smartphone, so, unlike WiFi headphones, the base station of the Bluetooth headphones doesn't connect to the music playing device, but is used only to recharge the batteries of the headphones.

Because Bluetooth headphones are mostly made for portable devices, some models have a noise reduction (/ canceling) feature which significantly reduces the noise that comes from the outside into the headphones, so that your music listening experience is not degraded by the the surrounding noise. Be very careful with such a feature because it will also limit your ability to hear incoming cars and other potential dangers.

Bluetooth headphones are likely to have a microphone will lets you answer phonecalls, but privacy oriented people might prefer to avoid that.

For the same sound quality, Bluetooth headphones are more expensive than WiFi headphones, but have more features.







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