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I heard that all it takes to get a noise violation ticket is for someone to file/call in a complaint. Is this true?

Ken Little

Not usually.

Police will generally try to work with a noise-generating citizen, at least on the first complaint, said Assistant City Attorney Lynn Coleman.

“You generally are presumed to not know you have been disturbing your neighbor,” Coleman said. “However, on subsequent complaints we start giving noise ordinance violations.”

Capt. Jeff Allsbrook of the Wilmington Police Department said that if officers determine there is a violation, a civil citation is used. On the first complaint, a written warning is issued and there is no fine.

Additional complaints at the same address can lead to fines, he said.

“We do however, reserve the right to go directly to a citation with a fine on the first offense, or even an arrest,” he said. “This allows our officers to use the proper enforcement in extenuating circumstances such as immediate non-compliance and being uncooperative with the officer.”

The city noise control ordinance includes specific prohibitions on a range of noise-making activities. They include:

  • The operation of radios, televisions or sound reproduction devices.
  • Playing any amplified or non-amplified musical instrument.
  • Keeping an animal or bird that frequently “or for long periods of time makes noises that tend to annoy or disturb others.”
  • Construction, construction preparation, building or operation of construction or building equipment.
  • Operation of domestic power tools.
  • Repair or testing of any motor vehicle.
  • Operation of any motor vehicle with an improper muffler system in violation of city ordinances.
  • Operation of any motor vehicle “so as to cause the tires to squeal or screech unnecessarily.”
  • Operation of model cars, boats, airplanes, go carts, mini bikes or all-terrain vehicles or “other unlicensed toy or recreational vehicles powered by an internal combustion engine.”
  • Street vending or peddling.
  • Sounding of any automobile horn “except as a warning or danger signal.”

The ordinance recognizes that certain entities “are particularly sensitive to sound and noise,” including churches and other places of worship, hospitals, convalescent and nursing facilities, schools and courthouses.

“We have a lot of college student complaints out in those neighborhoods, but downtown also seems to have more than its share,” Coleman says.

Police generally do not go by decibel levels when enforcing the ordinance, instead using the prohibition “that you should not be disturbing other life activities on properties near you,” Coleman says.

A first-time fine for violating the noise ordinance is $250. The fine is $500 for a second offense.

“Obviously, we encourage self-help (by) neighbors asking neighbors to turn it down,” Coleman says. “We’d prefer not to interfere with neighbors being good neighbors.”

To learn more about the city’s noise ordinance, go to http://www.wilmingtonnc.gov and click on the city ordinances tab on the left-hand side of the page. Scroll down to Chapter 6 offenses and click on Article II (noise control). Click here.

User-contributed question by:
Fred Champion

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4 Responses to “ I heard that all it takes to get a noise violation ticket is for someone to file/call in a complaint. Is this true?”

  1. On October 5, 2009 at 3:31 pm Lloyd wrote:

    If I complain about police cars using their sirens in the early morning hours, helicopters at 3 am, or fireworks noise at city sponsored events, will someone investigate the complaint? If I complain again, will a citation be forthcoming?

  2. On June 22, 2011 at 12:21 pm Brian wrote:

    I agree about the helicopters. The police helicopter frequently seems to be flying around just for the sake of flying around.

  3. On April 15, 2013 at 11:06 am Rachel wrote:

    Section 6-31 of the Noise Ordinance exempts the following from complaint:
    See specifically paragraphs (f), (g) and (k)
    (a) Sound or noise emanating from regularly scheduled outdoor athletic events on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington;

    (b) Construction activity performed by an agency of government provided that all equipment is operated in accordance with manufacturer’s specifications and is equipped with all noise-reducing equipment in proper condition;

    (c) Sound or noise of safety signals, warning devices, emergency pressure relief valves, church bells, and the bells of the New Hanover County Courthouse, provided that church or courthouse bells may not sound for more than five (5) minutes in any hour and may only mark the hour during nighttime hours as set forth in section 6-28

    (d) Sound or noise emanating from street fairs, festivals, or celebrations conducted by or with the City of Wilmington;

    (e) Sound or noise emanating from film and video production activities for which permits have been issued by the city; provided all equipment such as generators are properly muffled;

    (f) Sound or noise emanating from properly equipped aircraft operated in accordance with applicable federal rules and regulations;

    (g) Sound or noise from lawful fireworks;

    (h) Lawnmowers and agricultural equipment operated between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. when operated in accordance with manufacturer’s specifications and with all standard noise reducing equipment in place and in proper condition;

    (i) Musical accompaniment to parades or military ceremonies;

    (j) Sound emanating from regularly scheduled athletic events at city parks and school athletic facilities;

    (k) Emergency vehicles in the course of performing their official duties;

    (l) Boats, ships, barges and other vessels engaged in interstate commerce;

    (m) Railroad operations;

    (n) Noncommercial speeches made from a fixed location; and

    (o) Construction, construction preparation, and building activity between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m., and any such work certified by the building inspector or city manager to be necessary to address an emergency situation.

  4. On April 15, 2013 at 1:22 pm Si Cantwell wrote:

    Thanks for finding that for us, Rachel.

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