Hello. My name is Marc. I'm a licensed attorney and I will be happy to assist you.
Petty? Not at all! These things drive lots of people crazy (including me). Fortunately, in saner parts of the country like Washington, there are state and local laws that restrict noise levels.
In WA, the applicable statute is WAC 173-60-040, which is enforced by the Dept. of Ecology. Here's what the statute provides:
Maximum permissible environmental noise levels.
(1) No person shall cause or permit noise to intrude into the property of another person which noise exceeds the maximum permissible noise levels set forth below in this section.
The statute limits noise levels to about the range of 50-70 decibels. FYI - a lawnmower is usually about 100db. See attached for a table which sets forth the noise limits.
Now, the above noise limitations apply to the following:
(b) Between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. the noise limitations of the foregoing table shall be reduced by 10 dBA for receiving property within Class A EDNAs.
(c) At any hour of the day or night the applicable noise limitations in (a) and (b) above may be exceeded for any receiving property by no more than:
(i) 5 dBA for a total of 15 minutes in any one-hour period; or
(ii) 10 dBA for a total of 5 minutes in any one-hour period; or
(iii) 15 dBA for a total of 1.5 minutes in any one-hour period.
There is also State Law Chapter 70.107 RCW. It doesn't mention leaf blowers in particular, but it states its general purpose as follows:
The legislature finds that inadequately controlled noise adversely affects the health, safety and welfare of the people, the value of property, and the quality of the environment. Antinoise measures of the past have not adequately protected against the invasion of these interests by noise. There is a need, therefore, for an expansion of efforts statewide directed toward the abatement and control of noise, considering the social and economic impact upon the community and the state. The purpose of this chapter is to provide authority for such an expansion of efforts, supplementing existing programs in the field.
Despite these state laws, you should first inquire in your municipality. There are three roles that your local government may have in regulating noise:
- Adopt a local noise ordinance to set noise standards for their area.
- Enforce the local noise ordinance.
- If no local noise ordinance exists, enforce Ecology’s rules.
In enforcing any such local law, your local governments can do any of the following:
- Use Ecology’s rules (such as those discussed above);
- Adopt a local noise ordinance that includes:
- All of Ecology’s rules;
- Sections of Ecology’s rules;
- Sections of Ecology’s rules along with standards written by the local government; or
- Standards that are different from those in Ecology’s rules, if submitted to Ecology and not disapproved.
So what should you do about it now that you know all this?
I know this may seem naive and overly optimistic, but the first thing you should do is contact the person making the noise and try to work out a solution. Your neighbor may not be aware the noise is disturbing you. Talk to him/her. Be polite but explain that the noise is disturbing you and why. It will help to provide your neighbor with the details (noise level, duration, time of day, etc.) instead of just complaining. If you can give suggestions for how to minimize the noise (lower volume, less time doing the activity causing the noise, stop earlier in the day, etc.), it will also help.
To file a formal complaint, you need to contact your local government to find out which department has the responsibility to enforce the noise ordinance or rules and the proper procedures for filing a complaint. If you live inside city limits, inquire with your city police department or city hall. If you live outside the city limits, inquire with the County Sheriff’s Department or county commissioners’ office.
Formal complaints are handled in a variety of ways, depending on the city or county. Responses in your area could include:
- Informal visit to the location where the noise is coming from.
- Official noise measurement.
- Issuing a citation. The could be fine, a warning or a notice to comply.
- No response.
If your local government does nothing:
- Check with your homeowners or neighborhood association. There may be community rules that deal with noise or a formal process to help resolve issues with neighbors.
- Arrange for mediation (through district court, non-profit org., etc,).
- Consult with an attorney.
As for how to get noise measured:
- You can contact the local department that deals with noise issues and have them come out and measure the noise.
- Hire a private company to measure noise levels and prepare a report of their results.
- You can get the equipment to measure noise levels. For your results to be valid the measurement must be done by a person properly trained in measuring noise and the use of sound-measuring equipment.
Finally, from personal experience, I've found that it helps a lot to have allies. If you can team up with similarly annoyed neighbors, you will be more effective in any of the above efforts.
I wish you a peaceful Thanks Giving. And I hope my answer gives you a better idea of your issues and options. If so, please be sure to rate my answer, since that is the only way I can receive credit.