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Know Your Rights » During Your Tenancy » Roommates & Neighbors

Negotiation Process

It’s useful to think of your attempt to resolve issues with your neighbor as a trial-and-error process that will involve some negotiation and, likely, some compromise. It is a good idea to take the easiest, least complicated steps first and then escalate your strategy as the situation calls for it. It is up to each individual to assess the risk of the situation for themselves. Some tenants are able to address the concerns they have with their neighbor directly and resolve the situation while others may be reluctant to approach their neighbor because of safety concerns.

Here are some ideas that you can try in an attempt to get the problem resolved. Not every option may be available to you for various reasons, but some ideas may be helpful in reaching resolution with your neighbor. We’ll use a noise problem as an example, but these same strategies may be useful in resolving a variety of different problems with your neighbors.

Here are some ideas you can try when working to solve a noise problem with your neighbor:

  • Talking with your neighbors. You may be able to approach some neighbors directly and let them know about the problem you’re experiencing. They may not be aware how loud they are being, or how much can be overheard from your unit. You are the expert on your situation, and the one to determine the best way to approach the situation. You may or may not feel comfortable approaching your neighbors directly. Never confront your neighbor in anger, or if you feel unsafe approaching them. Be direct and polite, and ask for help from someone if you need it.
  • Documenting your complaints in writing. It may also be useful to keep a record of all the noise related incidents that occur. You can send that documentation to the landlord and ask them to take measures to enforce the quiet hours in the rental agreement. You can also send your neighbor a written request to lower their noise levels. In order to prove that you sent something in writing, it’s a good idea to send your documentation by certified mail, return receipt requested and regular first class mail, and keep a copy for yourself.
  • Documenting the impacts of the noise. It may also be useful to provide documentation of the impacts that the excessive noise is having on your health and wellbeing. A letter from a doctor, therapist or other healthcare provider may increase the strength of your argument.
  • Mediation. Dispute Resolution Centers are an extremely helpful resource for trying to resolve any conflict. Both parties must agree to come to mediation voluntarily. If your neighbor agrees, you may be able to sit down with a third-party mediator and come to an agreement that works for both of you. It’s a good idea to let the landlord know about the agreement you come to with your neighbor.
  • Citing laws. Many cities have laws that regulate noise within the city limits. Different cities may enforce their noise ordinances in different ways. It may be helpful to send a copy of the local noise ordinance to your neighbor and your landlord. You can also communicate your right to contact the police if the excessive noise doesn’t stop. Seattle laws regulate “residential disturbances” and “unreasonable noise” in the city limits. For more information, see Seattle Police Department: Avoiding Noise. You can also cite the common law principle of “the covenant of quiet enjoyment” to your landlord. Common law is rules of law that come from the decisions judges make in certain court cases. The quiet enjoyment covenant makes your landlord responsible for dealing with any disturbances that reasonably interfere with your enjoyment of the rental. Talk to an attorney for more information about quiet enjoyment and to get details on laws that could strengthen your argument to your landlord. Your neighbor may also be violating some of their duties under the Landlord-Tenant Act. RCW 59.18.130 spells out specific duties for all tenants in Washington State. You may cite these to your landlord and provide documentation to strengthen your argument.
  • Contacting the Police. Cities and counties have different laws regarding noise, and different kinds of enforcement. You can call the non-emergency police number in your area to report noise violations, but it can be very difficult to get police response, especially on weekend nights. You can call 9-1-1 if the noise problem is accompanied by a concern for your safety or the safety of others in the building; however, keep in mind that this number is only meant to be used for emergencies. The police may just issue a verbal warning to the household making excessive noise, but they can make a residential disturbance a criminal offense after repeated violations. They may also charge a fine, or contact the property owner after more than one offense. Seattle Noise Laws are enforced by the Seattle Police Department.
  • Taking legal action. Speak to an attorney regarding your options for bringing a lawsuit against your neighbor. You may choose to explore this possibility once you have exhausted all your other options, and the problem is still not resolved. It may be useful in itself for you to cite your legal options in a letter to your landlord, even if you do not plan to bring a lawsuit against them. The more documentation you have, the stronger your argument will be. For more information, see Legal Assistance Guide.