Summary of Sound Level Limits

Here are all of the sound level limits specified in the Code of Ordinances that I am aware of.  The different levels and rules spread throughout the CoO make for a fairly convoluted noise ordinance.  Somehow collecting them all into a single place doesn’t seem to simplify things.

The ordinance uses the term “decibels” to mean dBA, measured using the “slow” setting on a sound level meter.  I’ve taken the liberty of adding dBA to these limits when I think it’s what the ordinance is referring to.

In the section concerning Planned Development Areas, the term “decibels LAN” is used.  I don’t know what this means.

The term “sound equipment” means “loud speaker, public address system, amplification system, or other sound producing device.” It’s hard to imagine the writers of the ordinance would confine noise limits to only equipment which is built specifically to produce sound, leaving out noisy equipment such as generators or air conditioners, but that seems to be the thrust.  Taken literally, however, any device you can imagine produces sound under some condition.  This definition could probably do with some clarification.

Here it is, our Austin noise ordinance:

  • If you are in public, you may not make any noise or use any sound equipment between 10:30 PM and 7:00 AM [9-2-3 (1)]
  • You cannot make any noise or play an instrument that is audible at an adjacent business or residence between 10:30 PM and 7:00 AM [9-2-3 (3)]
  • You may not operate sand, rock, or gravel equipment within 600′ of a residence, church, hospital, hotel, or motel between 7:00 PM and 6:00 AM, unless you have a permit to do so [9-2-3 (4)]
  • You may not operate sound equipment from a vehicle at any time that is audible or that causes vibration within 30 feet [9-2-3 (5)]
  • You may not operate sound equipment on a watercraft at any time that is audible or that causes vibration within 100 feet [9-2-3(6)]
  • If you are at a business, you may not operate sound equipment that produces sound
    • more than 85 dBA at the business property line between 10:00 AM and 2:00 AM [9-2-4 (1)]
    • is audible at the business property line between 2:00 AM and 10:00 AM [9-2-4 (2)]
  • If your business is a restaurant or cocktail lounge, live entertainment is only permitted if the amplified sound does not exceed 70 dBA, as measured at the property line [25-2-808 (3)]
  • If you have a  mobile food establishment, the noise level of your mechanical equipment or outside sound equipment may not exceed 70 dBA, measured “at the property line that is across the street from or abutting a residential use.”
  • If you are at a residence you may not
    • Use sound equipment that produces a sound that is audible beyond the property line between 10:00 PM and 10:00 AM [9-2-5 (B)]
    • “Use sound equipment audible beyond the property line” that produces sound in excess of 75 dBA [9-2-5 (C)]
  • If you have a permitted outdoor music venue
    • you may use sound equipment that is no louder than 85 dBA at your property line between 10:00 AM and [9-2-12 (C)]
      • 10:30 PM, Sunday through Wednesday
      • 11:00 PM, Thursday
      • 12:00 Midnight, Friday or Saturday
    • with an occupancy of 600 or fewer people in the Warehouse or Sixth Street Districts, you may use sound equipment that is no louder than 85 dBA on your property line between 10:00 AM and 2:00 AM [9-2-12 (D)]
    • during SXSW you may use sound equipment that is no louder than 85 dBA on your property line between 10:00 AM and 2:00 AM [9-2-12 (E)]
  • If you are permitted to operate sound equipment in a public park, you may do so: [8-1-51]
    • no louder than 85 dBA between 10:00 AM and 10:00 PM
    • no louder than 80 dBA between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM (if you also have a late night extension for your permit)
    • as measured 100 feet in front of the sound equipment, or at the boundary of the recreation area in front of the sound equipment, whichever is lesser
    • located more than 100′ but less than 600′ from a residential property between
      • 10:00 AM and 8:00 PM Sunday through Thursday [8-1-52 (1)]
      • 10:00 AM and 10:00 PM Friday or Saturday [8-1-52 (2)]
    • and you are at Auditorium Shores, you are limited to 80 dBA if there is a measurable northerly wind blowing, as measured at the lesser of
      • 210 feet in front of the sond equipment [8-1-53 (1)]
      • nearest point from the sond equipment to the north curb of Riverside Drive [8-1-53 (2)]
  • If you have a temporary closure for a right-of-way event AND you are permitted to use sound equipment, unless the city has given you specific sound level limits and times for your event, you may not operate your sound equipment: [14-8-34 (1-2)]
    • louder than 85 dBA between 10:00 AM and 10:00 PM
    • louder than 80 dBA between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM
    • as measured from the closer of
      • 100′ in front of the sound equipment
      • at the “edge of the nearest residence”
  • If you are in a commercial recreation district, the noise level of live music may not exceed 70 dBA, as measured at the property line [25-2-583 (K)]
  • In a Planned Development Area, noise may not exceed 55 “decibels LAN” during daylight hours or 45 “decibels LAN” during night time hours.  Noise from a transportation facility or construction work are excluded. [25-2-648 (E)(1)]
  • In a Traditional Neighborhood District, the noise level of mechanical equipment is limited to 70 dBA at the property line [25-3-86]

20 Comments

  1. Can you answer this question? I live in a condo and a few months ago the condo HOA had workers, along with a crane and a tar machine operating very loudly not to mention walking on the roof between 6am and 630am in the morning. Did they break the cities noise ordinance?

    • I don’t think that would be considered a noise ordinance violation from the standpoint of someone living in the condos as the complainant. The workers were there in service to all of the condo owners, and on condo property. If the noise was disturbing to someone at a residence nearby, they might have a basis to complain, as the activity was occurring before 7 am.

  2. Would any of this noise ordinance cover a neighbor with a “sports” car with a muffler that makes the car very noisy starting up the car at 5:30AM and waking me up every day? This neighbor has other quiet cars but drives the noisy one at 5:30AM.

    • From what I’ve seen, except when they are specifically identified (such as loud car stereos), city staff do not consider noisy vehicles covered by the ordinance. I don’t know that I agree with this interpretation, but that’s what I’ve seen so far.

      Have you mentioned to your neighbor that his car is bothersome when started up in the early hours? Perhaps he could start it or park it differently, but just isn’t aware that he’s causing a problem.

  3. I’m looking for information on the noise level permitted by barking dogs, but see nothing relevant to that here. I just moved to Austin, and there is a nearby dog that barks, loudly and shrilly, for long periods, day and night. Does the Austin noise ordinance not consider this objectionable noise?

    • Title 3 in the Austin Code of Ordinances deals with animal regulation. Section 3-2-2 deals with noisy animals: “An owner or handler may not keep an animal that makes frequent or long, continued noise that is disturbing to a person of normal sensibilities.” There is no enumerated sound level limit for a barking dog, but there doesn’t need to be. Barking dogs are a very common complaint, and it’s an issue police deal with frequently; it won’t be difficult to convince a police officer that your neighbor’s dog is disturbing.

      If you’re on good terms with your neighbor, it may be a good idea to let them know that their dog disturbs you. They may be willing and able to take action, such as fitting the dog with a bark prevention collar, or letting it inside, in the interest of maintaining good neighborly relations. If you’re not on good terms, or if you have talked to the neighbor without good results, you can and should call the police. Sometimes a single visit from an police officer will be enough to cause a dog owner to take action. Sometimes it takes several visits.

  4. Based on a 2006 Austin city boundary map, we are in the Austin 2 Mile ETJ. Is there any construction noise ordinance for areas of Travis County in that City of Austin jurisdiction? One article on this site mentions that counties are not allowed to have noise ordinances, but I wasn’t sure if that was a blanket restriction, or how the 2 Mile ETJ affected things. Is construction nose allowed after 7am?

    • The question of the applicability of the noise ordinance in the ETJ is murky; no one I’ve talked to really knows the answer. The best explanation I’ve heard is that the ordinance technically applies, but that there is no method for enforcement.

      There are a select few counties in Texas that are allowed to have noise ordinances, but they are special situations. None of the counties in the Austin area are included.

    • As I understand it, noisy conversation late at night violates the ordinance. Whether you can get enforcement, I don’t know. Most apartment and condo buildings have rules against that sort of thing, so maybe your apartment manager is the best place to start? They may be more willing and able to take action if there is a recurring problem.

  5. Thanks for having this site! It is so helpful. Our neighbor hosts an annoying series of extremely short-term renters — some of whom I believe to be transients and immigrants — who come and go, come and go. Last week, a new renter with a motorcycle that has a loud muffler comes and go at least 3 trips after 10PM (comes back at 10, then leaves at 10:30, then leaves 20 mins later, then comes back 10 mins later, and so on and so forth). We had such a nice peaceful neighborhood before and it was nice for our young kids. Now it feels like a motorcross park. Do you think that violates the ordinance and if I think it does, do I just call the police?

    • Section 9-2-3 (3) reads “a person may not make noise or play a musical instrument audible to an adjacent business or residence between 10:30 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.” so it would seem that any loud motorcycle trips after 10:30 are in violation. But whether it’s enforced that way is another story. From what I’ve seen, vehicle noise doesn’t tend to get included, even when it’s on the property of the vehicle owner. There’s no restriction on coming or going from your home every 10 or 20 minutes, so I would guess the police would not be likely to consider this a noise ordinance violation in that regard.

      Section 9-2-3 (5) addresses vehicle noise directly: “a person may not operate sound equipment in a vehicle audible or causing a vibration 30 feet from the equipment.” This is obviously meant to address loud car stereos or cars with external PAs, but the definition for sound equipment includes “other sound producing devices.” Loud pipes on a motorcycle are made specifically to produce sound, so it stands to reason that they would be considered “sound equipment” as the ordinance defines it, and therefore should not be audible more than 30 feet from a motorcycle.

      The letter of the law seems to give a few reasons why your neighbor shouldn’t be allowed to operate his motorcycle at night, but will the police see it that way? I’m guessing they won’t. I don’t think anyone understands as well as APD how poorly written our ordinance is, because it’s up to them to try to find fair ways of enforcing it. If they were to follow the ordinance to the letter, they’d be writing an awful lot of tickets.

      My first suggestion is always to think about taking your complaint to the neighbor first. In most cases people are willing to make modifications to their behavior if a friendly neighbor lets them know that a noise problem exists. Does the neighbor operate his motorcycle in an especially noisy way? Does he sit and rev the engine in his driveway? Maybe there’s something he can do to enter and leave his driveway more quietly if it’s late at night, and maybe he’d be willing to do it.

      If you’re not willing to talk to your neighbor, or you have tried and it hasn’t yielded any results, you can try calling 311 to find out if they are willing to enforce vehicle noise level limits. 911 can be called for noise complaints, but only if the noise violation is happening currently, so that doesn’t sound appropriate in your case.

  6. I would like to know about noise regulations for construction/development within a subdivision. I am a block away from the equipment and can hear it inside my house. Can you tell me about specific sections that address construction?

  7. A construction crew has been working with leveling land for a nearby site almost 2 months now with the nearest distance to their site about 40 feet from my property line. It’s basically just across a 2-lane street from my backyard. 4 days out of the week I wake up to my house vibrating from their steam roller operation right at 7am – even when I sleep in a different room across the house. Given I work night shift until 5am this really has made my life hell. It’s as if they have a broken muffler – even the dishes in the my house vibrate each time the steamroller is “stressing” going up a hill or something similar up to hundreds of feet away. I thought they would be done by now but apparently this is not going away anytime soon. Is there anything I can do? Thanks in advance!

  8. I’ve found this site so interesting and thank Leasure’s thoughtful and measured responses. I want to affirm his advice to go direct to the source of the noise first and ask the noise maker to take into consideration your experience of the sound they made/created. Dogs barking, mufflers throbbing, music roaring, loud voices, compressors, jack hammers, and most recently for us a very large machine that is used to smooth concrete running full blast next door at 11:30pm. In most situations people will accommodate a specific request to change their noise making behavior. If they don’t I’ve found a couple of ways to approach the problem without having to call the police. So, here is my list: 1. go direct, politely, and be specific about what you are asking for and why. 2. Find out who owns the property or business and contact them directly. Use shame. You can pretty easily find out who owns property by going to http://www.traviscad.org and type in the address. Many tenants are not happy to hear from their landlord about how they are infuriating and annoying their neighbors. Usually you can find out who owns a business by going to pipl, or better yet, the TX Sec. of State website. Put your thoughts and experiences in writing. Let them know exactly what it was like at 3am when their tenants decided to have a baboon howling contest. 3. When that doesn’t work, join forces with others who are affected by the noise and circulate a petition. We did this on our two block stretch of street when we were not able to persuade a group house to stop being the party center after the 6th St. bars closed at 2am. The noise was surging out of the house and yard every weekend night. I walked up and down our block and in about 20 minutes had 30 signatures to a letter explaining that the noise was interfering with our sleep, well being, and was extremely discourteous. I made copies of it and gave it to the occupants of the house and sent it to the landlord. They stopped & soon moved out. So, in short, the police may be able to help in some situations but I would not wait for the police. We are social animals: apply constant, direct pressure and public/community shame. I agree that helplessness and passivity make the noise so much worse. At least half of the stress is trying to figure out what to do.

  9. So my neighbor’s car stereo is so loud that I can hear it in every room of my house, whenever they come and go from their house. Sometimes they sit in their driveway for a few minutes, with the bass vibrating my garage door. Obviously the police will never be able to ‘catch them in the act.’ Any suggestions? He’s an intimidating fellow that doesn’t care to say Hi much to neighbors, so I assumed he wouldn’t respond well to a polite request.

  10. Pingback: Statesman Shots #42: Jeanne Claire van Ryzin on East Austin Studio Tour | Statesman Shots

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