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Noise Task Force Inspections Report

The following report details inspections conducted by the Noise Task Force—comprised of representatives from the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)—at DC businesses to ensure compliance with District noise laws.

Report Summary

The findings of the report show a majority of businesses visited since March 13, 2014 are complying with District noise laws. Businesses include ABC-licensed establishments and non-licensed establishments. From March 13, 2014 through July 18, 2014, the Noise Task Force:

  • Completed 522 noise checks at 113 locations over 46 Noise Task Force meeting days.
  • Of the 113 locations, 86 were checked more than once.
  • Establishments include those that were the subject of noise complaints from residents.
  • A total of 16 noise-related violations were identified. Of those:
    • 12 were violations of DC Official Code Title 25 including section 25-725 and are subject to Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (Board) enforcement action; and
    • 4 were violations of the Noise Control Act resulting in warnings from DCRA, which is required by law for a first-time offense.

District Noise Laws

All businesses are required to comply with the District's noise laws.

ABRA enforces DC Official Code Section 25-725, which prohibits on-premise ABC-licensed establishments from producing any sound, noise, or music of such intensity that it may be heard in any premises other than the licensed establishment by the use of any:

  • Mechanical device, machine, apparatus, or instrument for amplification of the human voice or any sound or noise;
  • Bell, horn, gong, whistle, drum, or other noise-making article, instrument, or device; or
  • Musical instrument.

There are several exceptions including:

  • Areas in the building which are not part of the licensed establishment;
  • A building owned by the licensee which abuts the licensed establishment;
  • Any premises other than the licensed establishment which are located within certain commercial zones including C-1, C-2, C-3, C-4, C-M, or M zone, as defined in the zoning regulations for the District;
  • Sounds, noises, or music occasioned by normal opening of entrance and exit doors for the purpose of ingress and egress.

Additionally, the Noise Control Act prohibits individuals and businesses from generating noise outside of their property that exceeds maximum noise levels of 60 decibels in commercial or light-manufacturing zones at nighttime. Other limits include 55-70 decibels depending on the area and time of day.

If an establishment is found to be violating:

  • DC Official Code 25-725:
    • ABRA would refer the matter to the Board for enforcement action, which could result in fines.
  • The Noise Control Act:
    • DCRA would issue a written warning for a first-time offense. A subsequent offense would result in a citation. A first-time citation for a violation of the Noise Control Act is $1,000.

Noise Task Force Compliance Checks

During compliance checks, Noise Task Force officials arrive at businesses unannounced. Businesses include ABC-licensed establishments such as:

  • Restaurants,
  • Taverns,
  • Nightclubs,
  • Hotels, and
  • Multipurpose facilities.

Many of the establishments that are checked—especially those that are named in residents' noise complaints—are checked on multiple occasions by the Noise Task Force.

During an inspection, officials will first determine whether sound is emanating from the premises.

If sound is emanating from the premises, an official from DCRA will measure noise in one of several ways. For noise emanating from inside a property, an official will stand at least a meter outside the building to take a decibel reading. If the sound is emanating from an outdoor sound-producing device, the official will stand at least a meter from the device to take the measurement. The official must detect a difference of at least four decibels between the ambient noise level and the noise level emanating from the tested source to issue a citation. Officials will not cite if elements like heavy wind or rain are likely to be obscuring an accurate reading.   

ABRA investigators ensure ABC-licensed establishments with settlement agreements are complying with the terms of those agreements, which can include noise provisions. Several of the establishments inspected since March 13, 2014 have settlement agreements with restrictions pertaining to noise. Examples include restrictions on speakers being installed in outside areas and other limitations on outdoor operations.

ABRA Noise Complaint Processes

In addition to ABRA’s role on the Noise Task Force, ABRA investigators:

  • Respond to noise complaints from the public,
  • Investigate those complaints, and
  • Routinely monitor establishments for compliance with DC Official Code 25-725.

In order for ABRA officials to investigate a noise compliant, an investigator is required to enter the complainant’s premises to:

  • Listen to the noise;
  • Trace the noise back to a specific establishment;
  • Verify whether the noise is excessive; and
  • Determine whether the noise violates DC Official Code 25-725.
    • ABRA regulatory authority under DC Official Code 25-725 does not include certain commercial zones or areas in the same building as the establishment.

If it is determined that the noise is a violation of DC Official Code 25-725, an ABRA investigator would refer the matter to the Board for enforcement action, which could result in fines.

Noise complaints can be made to ABRA by: