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Barking dogs, booming music: How to resolve neighbor noise complaints

You love your home, you love the neighborhood, but no one could love that barking dog at midnight or loud parties next door on Tuesdays. How can you get peace and quiet? If you think you have a good idea, you'll probably be in for a surprise. Solving neighbor noise complaints should not involve written notes, for example, and most of the time the HOA should stay out of it.

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This is one of those bizarre times when legal rights take a back seat to good manners. Being in "the right" legally can shore up your case, but most of the really effective solutions involve simple forethought and solid communication skills. Following advice from etiquette experts may seem a strange way to quiet loud lawn mowers or the neighboring teen's garage band practice, but it's worth a shot. If that doesn't work, you always have more extreme measures like calling the police or moving.

Ask the right questions before you move in. If you know you're super susceptible to loud noises or really need your sleep at night, make that a priority when you shop for rentals or a new home. Be sure to at least drive by the neighborhood on a Saturday night or Sunday morning to see how noisy it is. And when you're home shopping, be wary of reduced prices. While living next to a cemetery may save you some bucks (and would be a good option for the noise-sensitive), airport proximity could just as easily be the reason for the bargain.

Give the neighbors one pass. "Ask yourself if this is a one-off thing or if this is a constant?" etiquette expert Anna Post advised in Fannie Mae's housing market blog The Home Story. "If your neighbor has a party once a year, try to make it through that party and try not to worry about it."

Post also warned against picking every battle. If you do, "you're going to be pretty unpopular, and you're probably unreasonable," she said.

Don't write a letter. "People are not awesome at writing notes when they want to correct someone else's behavior," said Post. "Notes can come across as being passive-aggressive." And if you must resort to reporting the noise to your homeowner's association or the landlord, do so only after you speak with your neighbor in person. That keeps you from getting the neighbors in trouble before they are able to fix the problem. "It could have been an honest mistake," Post added.

Never interact while you're still angry. While it may seem gratifying to storm out of the house in your bathrobe and scream at the neighbor, you risk having a complaint filed against you when you do that. More importantly, you won't get results. So save your (short) speech for a calm moment, making sure it's between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. "If you bump into them on the street, ask if they have a moment, and then state your case," Post advised.

Don't play the victim when you can just ask for what you want. "Your time and energy will be better spent on solving the problem than continuing to explain its impact on you," according to the Emily Post Institute. "Jim, it's hard for me to sleep when the music is loud after 10 p.m. Would you be willing to turn it down it then?"

Loud sex noises are just a little more awkward. Don't be thrown if the noises that bother you are coming from a couple engaged in noisy lovemaking, advised Slate "Dear Prudence" columnist Emily Yoffe.

But this is one time that an anonymous note might be the best tactic. "Something like: 'We're happy that you're having so much fun in bed, but please respect that your early morning passion is ruining the time in bed for those of us who are just sleeping. So when you go at it, please keep it down,'" Yoffe advised. Also make sure you're not being unreasonable, suggested Slate columnist Amanda Marcotte.

Train yourself to work with barking dogs. According to the American Kennel Club, even barking dogs may yield to the attention of a kindly neighbor. Especially if you are not a "dog person" yourself, it may rankle to have to adjust your behavior to the nuisance. But it can be far more effective to make the effort to co-exist instead of calling in noise complaints or alienating the dog's owners.

Before anything else, talk to your neighbors to make sure they're even aware of the problem. "Leave the attitude at home and communicate in a friendly, neighborly way that the barking is becoming a problem for you and your family," the AKC advised. "It's possible they're inexperienced dog owners. In that case, you might want to suggest some resources that will help them manage the barking."

After that, note whether the dog barks each time you venture near his property. If that's the case, try blocking his vision with a hedge or other privacy screen. Better yet, try to befriend the dog, going so far as to ask the neighbors if he can visit you in your yard. "Try making time outside an ordinary occurrence," the AKC added. "Once he's used to the sight, sounds, and smells of his human neighbors, they may not be such a big deal to him, and he won't feel the need to bark."

If you do have to resort to formal complaints, start by getting advice from the humane society. Take video or audio clips on your cellphone to support your position, all the way to court if need be. But keep in mind that the best motivation for fighting your neighbors on a dog that's constantly barking is the possibility that he may be in an abusive or neglectful situation and need rescuing.

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