Learn more about the Noise Control Ordinance and how to report a noise disturbance.
What are the current County laws regarding noise?
The current Noise Control Ordinance is the base standard for the control of environmental noise and is applied countywide, with the exception of Federal and State regulated properties, reservations and thoroughfares. The Zoning Ordinance also addresses noise in that it contains language that allows for special uses within the county such as live entertainment, dance halls and major developments often referred to as “site plans.” Special use conditions are applied in the zoning process, discussed and approved by the Arlington County Board at public hearings. Upon approval, these laws are enforced by a special zoning enforcement group established in 2007, which often regulates times of activities and limits of scope.
What is the Noise Control Ordinance? What is a noise disturbance?
The Noise Control Ordinance is Chapter 15 of the Code of Arlington County and is the regulatory tool used by the County to establish expectations for the control of environmental noise in our community and limit its escalation.
As referenced in the revised ordinance a “noise disturbance” is a defined activity that exceeds the decibel limitations established for a zoning designation or that is produced by a motor vehicle.
Why did you update the noise ordinance? What did you update?
The primary reason for the update was the removal of our reference to the “reasonable person standard”, which is language that was identified as unconstitutionally subjective by the Virginia Supreme Court in its 2009 decision, Tanner v. City of Virginia Beach. The County strengthened the ordinance by removing other subjective references opting for clearly objective, quantifiable and defined measurement standards to allow for equitable and efficient enforcement of the noise control ordinance.
County staff revised how noise disturbances are measured at properties, motor vehicles and within multi-unit structures like apartments and condominiums. Updates included increased penalties, new civil penalties and appeal processes. There were refinements and an increased number of prohibited activities related to environmental noise and clarified construction expectations, as well as constitutional and jurisdictional authority exemptions.
Who enforces the noise ordinance?
The Code Enforcement Team of the Community Planning, Housing & Development Department manages the Noise Control Ordinance, while both the Arlington County Police Department and Code Enforcement enforce the ordinance. General questions related to the noise control ordinance may be directed to Code Enforcement at 703-228-3232 or by email.
Will the police enforce the Noise Ordinance when Code Enforcement is not on duty?
Yes, Arlington County police will investigate noise-related complaints whenever code enforcement inspectors are not available, as well as all motor vehicle type violations. Outside of regular business hours, code enforcement inspectors may inspect noise complaints that are recurrent, predictable disturbances.
If I am disturbed by noise, what can I do? Who should I contact?
Get a quick guide about who to call, when, and for what.
First, determine the location of the noise source and then seek to have it addressed. If you have a cordial relationship with the offender, communicate directly with the offender to address your concerns. If direct communication is not possible, or you are uncomfortable with the situation and the disturbance is occurring during business hours, contact Code Enforcement at 703-228-3232 or by email. If the issue is outside of normal business hours, or currently occurring with significant intensity, contact Arlington County Police at the non-emergency number 703-558-2222.
If the noise disturbance is occurring within a multi-unit development like a condominium or apartment, contact the management agency immediately. Apartments and condominiums typically have clauses in their leasing agreements and by-laws to support the allowance for a resident’s quiet enjoyment of their home without disturbances from others. In the case of multi-unit developments, tenants and unit owners that violate contractual agreements maybe subject to eviction and fines from management agencies.
If the issue involves recurring, predictable offenses like early morning trash collection or construction noise outside of the expected times, call Code Enforcement or contact us. When contacting the County, be sure to provide details to aid the site investigation, such as the specific location of the noise source and length or recurring frequency of the disturbance.
What can I do if the enforcement officer can’t cite the offender?
To enforce environmental noise laws, inspectors and officers must witness and be able to attest to the violation of ordinance standards. Some noise issues correct themselves before staff can witness them and cite in violation. If staff cannot cite the offender, there are additional remedies available for residents to address noise disturbances that negatively impact their ability to coexist with their neighbors. If a noisy circumstance causes you to feel that you are being damaged in some measurable way, such as loss of sleep, inability to conduct you business or enjoy your space, increased stress levels and hearing loss, etc., you may be able to achieve a resolution and remedy through civil processes.
Community mediation is also a very effective, low-cost option to address the problem. Code enforcement can advise residents how the process works and how to seek out mediation agencies. Civil court actions are another remedy and can often be handled without the expense of an attorney when cases are properly documented. Residents living in development communities like homeowners associations, condominiums, cooperatives and apartments, should contact their management agents and thoroughly review the powers within their community agreements (bylaws, leases) which often give remedies for problems that do not allow for peaceful coexistence with others in the community.
Does the law say what kind of noise can be made at different times and in different places?
Yes. For example, construction activity typically exceeds the decibel limitations for a zoning district, but without a special exemption, construction noise would be required to conform to the limit of the zoning designation during the nighttime. Garbage collection is another example of a commonly occurring activity that is expected to occur during the daytime.
What are the penalties an offender may face under the updated ordinance?
Violators are subject to criminal and civil penalties under the new revisions. When police officers witness the violation, they may issue a summons for a court appearance or arrest violators. Upon conviction, the Court may fine the violator not less than $100 or more than $2,500; however, each day in violation may be considered a separate offense multiplying the penalties imposed on the violator. The ordinance also introduces civil penalties, much like a traffic ticket, that may be issued to the responsible parties associated with the noise violation. Civil penalties are imposed after a warning and a violator may be fined up to $250 for the first violation and up to $500 for all fines that follow.