The November-December 2020 issue of The Pennsylvania Lawyer contains an article on noise ordinances in Pennsylvania—Turning Up Quiet With Noise Ordinances.
The article provides context for attorneys when drafting noise ordinances for Pennsylvania. Many noise ordinances and purported noise ordinances (actually problematic omnibus “zoning” ordinances or nuisance ordinances) suffer from outdated research, lack of recognition that noise is a serious health issue, reliance on ordinances copied from other jurisdictions with other regulatory schemes, or failures to accommodate current law. After Scott Township, municipalities with defective noise ordinances may expect challenges and novel litigation.
The article discusses:
- the extensive medical research demonstrating noise as a serious community health issue linked to a myriad of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, learning impairment, birth defects, psychological disorders, PTSD, stress, and early death;
- a reminder that Congress (since 1972) formally recognizes noise as an environmental pollutant;
- noise is a fundamental property rights issue implicating the centuries-old fundamental right to quiet enjoyment and corresponding constitutional duty to use real property in a way that does not impair real property of another;
- Pennsylvania’s recognition (along with other states) of the “plainly audible” standard to trigger potential liability for impairment under quiet enjoyment;
- that so-called “decibel measurements” by definition do not measure noise, cause problems with enforcement, and do not provide additional “accuracy;” and
- common ordinance problems such as mistaken reliance on nuisance law alone to address community noise (nuisance represents a distinct, adjunct area of law) or “omnibus” zoning-noise-nuisance ordinances that try to lump zoning, nuisance, and noise together under zoning (the MPC) rather than as distinct ordinances with enforcement as general health-safety, and welfare, then nuisance, and possibly zoning (as true performance standards).
The article represents a starting point for attorneys drafting noise ordinances or for attorneys reviewing and resolving problematic ordinances.
Pennsylvania Noise Ordinance Resources
- Shannon Brown, Turning Up Quiet with Noise Ordinances: Tools for Municipalities to Mitigate Noise Pollution, THE PENNSYLVANIA LAWYER, 32-40 (Nov-Dec 2020).
- Shannon Brown, Noise Ordinances: Supporting Health and Neighborliness in Pennsylvania, Online Course for Penn State Extension (Sept. 2018). See also the announcement at https://www.shannonbrownlaw.com/archives/3161.
- Pennsylvania Sample Model Noise Ordinance Noise ordinance sample applying Pennsylvania-specific law, Word, fillable-field format.