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Noise Complaint Laws for Chicago Rentals

Chicago limits noise to "average conversational level." Fines range from $300 for the first offense to $1,000 for the third offense within one year.

You’re sleeping peacefully in your bed at 2 a.m. All of a sudden, the person in your neighboring apartment embarks on a rousing rendition of “Takin’ Care of Business” on a karaoke machine. What can you do? Chicago, like most big cities, has a noise ordinance on the books that tells you exactly how much noise is allowed in your neighborhood and what you can do if someone (or something is being too loud).

That's the good news. The bad news is that, whereas most cities define a violating noise level in terms of decibels, Chicago uses the idea of "average conversational level," which isn't exactly black and white.

How loud is too loud in Chicago?

There are different rules for different types of noise, from parties to construction.

Communication or entertainment can't be “louder than average conversational level.” During the day, the noise can’t be louder than average conversational level at a distance of 100 feet from the source. During the evening—between the hours of 10 p.m. and 8 a.m—it can’t be louder than average conversational level from the edge of the property. This is probably not much of a difference as a practical matter, especially since the Chicago ordinance specifically states that the “most restrictive limits apply” whenever there is a conflict between two measures.

You may be wondering what, exactly, “average conversational level” actually means. Chicago defines it as “a level at which normal, unamplified speech is clearly and distinctly audible above ambient noise level.” Ambient noise is just the standard background noise that exists around you—a humming refrigerator, heater, air conditioner, cars driving.

If it's construction and trash collection that's bothering you, Chicago prevents the “loading, unloading, opening, closing or other handling of boxes, crates, containers, building, materials, garbage cans, dumpsters or similar objects” between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. In terms of construction, the ordinance restricts that between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. There is an exception for emergency repair work and also authorized public improvements.

What can I do if the noise won't stop?

Generally, going to your neighbors and asking them to lower the volume is a good first step. If this doesn’t work, you should look over your lease. Often times, your apartment complex will have more restrictive provisions than the city, and your landlord would likely be more interested in enforcing these restrictions because it leads to a better overall environment within the rental complex.

If none of these steps work, you can dial 311 to file a complaint with the city (or 911 if the noise violation seems to be the result of some form of criminal activity). You will need to provide the address, apartment number, and other relevant information about the violation such as the time it occurred, the nature of the disturbance, etc. Ask the dispatcher if you should be present to make a statement. For recurring problems, you can call 312-744-2277 to be connected with your district to learn about community meetings where you can discuss the issue with your local police officers.

What are the penalties for violating this ordinance?

Violators are subject to an increasing level of fines, starting $300 for the first offense and capping out at $1,000 for the third offense within one year. You don’t need to put up with disruptive noise and if you’re annoyed by it, chances are good your other neighbors are as well, so approaching your noisy neighbor, landlord, or law enforcement en mass will likely result in more rapid reaction.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.