Noise Control in Montgomery County
The Montgomery County Noise Control Ordinance is the primary mechanism by which noise is regulated in the County. First passed by the County Council in 1975, the ordinance was revised in 1996 to reflect the current challenges of an urban county entering the 21st century. The goal of the ordinance is to reduce overall noise levels in the County. By establishing common-sense guidelines that residents and businesses can follow, the ordinance promotes a more restful, pleasant environment. It also provides remedies for situations in which noise exceeds reasonable limits.
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Key Provisions of the Noise Control Ordinance
The Montgomery County Noise Control Ordinance establishes maximum acceptable sound intensity levels at the receiving property line (any property where people live or work and where noise is heard) according to the use of that receiving property and the time of day. The standards are intended to be outdoor property line measurements; they don't apply indoors.
The maximum allowable sound levels, measured at the nearest receiving property line, are as follows:
- Residential receiving properties (mixed-use zones are considered residential)
- 65 dBA during daytime hours
- 55 dBA during nighttime hours
- Nonresidential receiving property
- 67 dBA during daytime hours
- 62 dBA during nighttime hours
- 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays
- 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends and holidays*
Nighttime ("quiet") hours:
- 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays
- 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. weekends and holidays*
* Visit the U.S. Office of Personnel Management for a list of federally recognized holidays.
In addition, the Noise Control Ordinance makes it illegal to:
- Operate, or allow to be operated, a radio, television, or other sound-producing device on public or private property if the sound exceeds 55 dBA at the receiving property line during the designated nighttime “quiet” hours.
- Create a noise disturbance during quiet hours in a residential zone or multifamily structure.
- Operate any equipment that exceeds the receiving property line sound level limits.
- Allow an animal or fowl to create a noise disturbance at any time.
- Load or unload material during quiet hours.
- Create a noise disturbance across property lines during quiet hours by operating power equipment mounted on a motor vehicle; for example, refrigerated trucks or commercial vacuum cleaners.
- Permit construction noise to exceed 75 dBA during the week and 65 dBA on weekends, with allowances for higher decibel levels under an approved "Noise Suppression Plan."
Be Aware! Sources that operate on a 24-hour basis, such as HVAC systems, exhaust fans, and standby generators, must meet the more restrictive nighttime standard of 55 dBA.
Note: The above standards are intended to be outdoor property line measurements and do not apply indoors.
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Exemptions to the County's Ordinance Provisions
The Noise Control Ordinance does not cover noise from aircraft, railroads, and motor vehicles on public roadways because federal and state government regulations supersede local regulations. Emergency operations by public utilities and interior noise commonly associated with multi-tenant dwellings (e.g., heavy footsteps, children playing, amplified voices) are also exempt.
A few types of equipment have additional regulations and guidelines:
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Compliance with and Enforcement of the Noise Ordinance
The Montgomery County Noise Control Ordinance contains objective and subjective mechanisms for enforcement. The objective mechanisms include the sound intensity limits—observable events that can be measured and are not subject to interpretation. The subjective mechanisms include actions that can be taken in response to less concrete examples of nuisance noise.
Compliance with the Noise Control Ordinance involves keeping noise levels at the receiving property line below the levels set forth in the ordinance and avoiding noise events that are "unusual for the time of day" or "unreasonably interfere with proper use and enjoyment of property or the lawful conduct of business."
When a noise violation is reported, an enforcement officer comes out to take a noise reading (if appropriate) and investigate the situation. The enforcement officer has some discretion in interpreting the noise readings and in determining whether the "nature and extent" of the reported issue warrants further action. For example, the ordinance allows police officers to issue citations for noise disturbances on the basis of their own judgment and the testimony of witnesses.
DEP makes every attempt to resolve noise problems without taking formal action. For repeated violations, or in situations that cannot be dealt with outside official channels, however, the Noise Control Ordinance provides DEP with several enforcement options:
- Plan of Compliance: A binding, negotiated agreement presenting a progressive schedule for achieving compliance within a reasonable period.
- Notice of Violation and Corrective Order (NOV): States the nature and extent of the offense, the possible consequences, and requisite corrective action. An NOV remains on file for one year. If the violation continues or reoccurs within that year, the NOV demonstrates "willful and deliberate" violation.
- Class A Violation: Issued when an NOV is disregarded or the violation is blatant and egregious, or for construction-related noise. A Class A violation carries a maximum penalty of $500 for the first offense and $750 for subsequent offenses.
- Stop Work Order: Issued for recurring violations on the same construction site.
- Abatement Order: Issued by the district court. Violation of an abatement order carries further monetary sanctions imposed by the court.
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Resolving Noise Control Issues
Many noise problems can be resolved through the same methods used to confront other neighborhood problems. Tactful person-to-person communication is a good way to start. If that approach fails, strength through numbers might be the answer. Your block, tenant, or community association may wish to adopt resolutions in keeping with the County Noise Control Ordinance, while taking steps to inform residents of the association's support for sanctions against noise disturbances.
When noise disturbances continue despite local attempts to resolve them, stronger actions might be warranted. This is especially true if the disturbances consistently occur during the quiet hours 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays, and 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.
Reporting a Noise Issue
The following Montgomery County services are available to help you resolve noise issues:
- To report noise violations during regular business hours, or for more information about the Noise Control Ordinance, call the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection at 311, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., weekdays.
- To report noise disturbances outside regular business hours, call the police non-emergency line at 301.279.8000.
- To report noise disturbances from trash collection during quiet hours, call the Montgomery County Division of Solid Waste Management at 311 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., weekdays.
- To report noise disturbances from animals, call the Animal Services Division at 311, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., weekdays.
Because many noise disturbances are not witnessed by an enforcement officer, the ordinance has a unique provision allowing residents to file a two-party noise complaint.
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More Things You Can Do to Reduce Noise Problems
Whether you live in a single-family home, a multifamily building, or a townhouse or condo, you can help maintain a quiet environment by following a few common-sense guidelines:
- Monitor the volume of TVs, stereos, radios, and other sound-producing electronics in and around your home, especially during quiet hours. Pay particular attention to bass controls.
- Use power tools in your home, garage, or outdoors only during regular hours.
- Limit outdoor activities that might generate undue noise to regular hours.
- Check central and window air-conditioning units periodically to make sure they're operating as quietly as possible.
- Take good care of your pets. A healthy dog receiving regular food, exercise, and proper shelter won't bark incessantly.
- Make sure your family and guests are aware of, and comply with, quiet hours.
- "Buy quiet" when selecting equipment and appliances.
Businesses can also be good neighbors and comply with the ordinance by limiting the following activities to regular hours:
- Construction activities
- Loading and unloading of goods and materials
- Use of electronic sound and public address equipment
- Use of power equipment mounted on motor vehicles
Also, keep noise control in mind when building or renovating and be sure to follow all the applicable regulations within the Noise Control Ordinance.
Visit the noise control page specific to your situation to learn how your activities may be regulated and how you can help to reduce noise disturbances in Montgomery County:
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New Challenges for Noise Control
Our community is changing because smart growth incentives, land use planning, and zoning are clustering development and concentrating the population into multiple-use areas. Traditional residential areas now share space with a variety of commercial uses. An increasing number of people now run businesses from their homes or telecommute. Individual work schedules are changing because of flex time and other incentives. And a growing number of people now work and sleep on alternate schedules. A midweek afternoon lawn service might now interrupt an at-home teleconference.
All of these zoning and behavior changes are creating new considerations for noise control. The solution might be a revision to the County's Noise Control Ordinance. New guidelines, waiver provisions, and temporary exemptions might need to be developed to balance various needs.
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Sounding Off: We want your input!
You can play a part in framing changes to the Noise Control Ordinance by sending comments, opinions and observations to the Montgomery County Noise Control Advisory Board (NCAB). Help us understand your experiences and expectations as a resident, business owner, or contractor within Montgomery County.
Questions or suggestions should be sent to:
Department of Environmental Protection
255 Rockville Pike, Suite 120
Rockville, Maryland 20850
If you have questions or would like more information about noise control in Montgomery County, call 311.
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