Pennsylvania Noise Ordinances Presentation February 3, 2021

On February 3, 2021, attorney Shannon Brown presented a webinar entitled What’s All the Noise About Noise Ordinances? to the PA State Association of Township Supervisors.

Noise Ordinance Presentation Materials

Noise Means Disruptive Sound

The EPA defines noise as any unwanted or disruptive sound. Sound becomes unwanted or disruptive when it interferes with basic life functions such as sleep or conversation or when noise diminishes one’s quality of life. Note that noise does not need to be “loud” to meet this definition. Furthermore, the definition of noise emphasizes that noise represents an interference with the rights and physical-person of others.

Noise a Serious Health, Community & Property Rights Issue

Noise poses

  • a serious health problem,
  • a violation of fundamental private property rights to the quiet enjoyment of property, and
  • a threat to community peace and neighborliness.

US law has recognized noise a a serious issue for at least 50 years

Three Distinct Pennsylvania Tools for Addressing Noise

Under current federal and state statutory and case law, Pennsylvania municipalities have significant latitude to address noise and protect their communities and residents using three distinct, basic, and simple tools:

  1. a true noise ordinance,
  2. a public nuisance ordinance, and
  3. zoning ordinance with performance standards.

The presentation illustrates why these are three, distinct tools (and how to avoid problematic Frankenstein-ordinances that improperly conflate these distinct tools). For the true noise ordinance, communities in Pennsylvania may use the simple, direct, fair, and easy-to-enforce, plainly-audible noise standard. Pennsylvania follows Constitutional law and does not require sometimes arbitrary, “decibel-level ordinances,” which can be complicated and hard-to-enforce.

Noise Linked to Serious Health Issues

Research links noise to a host of health issues such as learning impairment in children, miscarriages, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, psychiatric disorders, colitis, ulcers, stress disorders, and other adverse health effects. Noise does NOT need to be “loud” to be linked to adverse health.

Noise Violates Basic Private Property Rights

Noise also represents an improper and illegal invasion of or condemnation of private property rights of others and a violation of basic community standards of neighborliness. As the presentation illustrates, all property owners possess a fundamental right to the  quiet enjoyment of their property—importantly, no “right” to make noise or to disrupt others exists. Similarly, Constitutional law specifies a duty that one use his real property in a manner that does not disrupt others in their quiet enjoyment of property.

Specific Noise-related Hot Topics: Agri-tainment, No-impact Businesses, Fireworks

The presentation also addresses specific noise-related “hot topics” in Pennsylvania such as:

  • statutory, no-impact home businesses (which by definition cannot make noise or cause disruption)
  • agritourism and agri-tainment business operations (non-agricultural uses of agricultural property)
  • ATV and recreational vehicle abuse and
  • fireworks (a growing problem in Pennsylvania due to recent tax law changes with effects on humans and animals).

Addressing Noise a Fundamental Function of Local Government

Addressing noise is a basic, necessary, and quintessential function of local government. Noise ordinances protect private property rights, benefit health, and maintain community peace.

Noise Ordinance Presentation Materials