Program on Pennsylvania Noise Ordinances & Noise Law
On September 19, 2018, Attorney Shannon Brown presented on noise ordinances in Pennsylvania. Current scientific and medical research links noise to significant adverse health effects such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, annoyance, stress, and learning impairment in children. As research shows, noise need not be “loud” to be associated with adverse health effects.
Pennsylvania municipalities may use an easy-to-administer and sensible “plainly audible” standard to craft noise ordinances as opposed to the cumbersome, sound-level or “decibel-level” noise ordinances. A plainly audible standard allows almost anyone to determine whether a potential noise violation exists based on “can you hear the sound beyond the originating property lines.”
The presentation identified the controlling legal rights at issue such as the fundamental constitutional right to the quiet enjoyment of property and the related obligation of all persons to use their property in a way that does not interfere with the rights of others. The presentation also stressed that municipalities should enact three types of noise control ordinances to avoid potential liability for the municipality itself under 5th Amendment Takings for example. Each municipality should have:
- a noise ordinance to address immediate noise issues such as loud parties, animals, and other disruptive acts;
- a public nuisance ordinance to address threats to public health and the community arising from noise and other nuisances such as dilapidated buildings; and
- zoning ordinances to provide adequate buffers, setbacks, and zoning districts to separate potentially noise-conflicting uses.
Unfortunately, many municipalities still have no noise control ordinances, despite the threat to health and community quality-of-life, or only have a public nuisance ordinance—which is largely ineffective to address most noise problems in a community whereas a noise ordinance can. Others mis-classify public nuisance or zoning ordinances as noise ordinances.
Properly drafted noise ordinances encourage neighbor cooperation, minimize noise encroachments on private property, protect health, enhance quality-of-life, and maintain community peace.