What are noise laws in the District for ABC licensed establishments?
There are two main noise laws for ABC establishments in the District.
ABRA enforces DC Official Code Section 25-725, which prohibits restaurants, taverns, nightclubs, hotels and multipurpose facilities 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 exceptions to this rule, which include:
- 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; or
- Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning devices.
The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) enforces the Noise Control Act, which prohibits individuals and businesses from generating noise outside their property that exceeds the following levels:
Noise Control Act (Chapter 27 of Title 20)
Maximum Noise Level Daytime
Maximum Noise Level Nighttime
Commercial or light-manufacturing zone
Residential, special purpose, or waterfront zone
|60 dB(A)||55 dB(A)|
How are noise laws enforced in the District?
ABRA investigators routinely monitor ABC establishments for noise in the District as well as respond to noise complaints received from the public.
ABRA also works with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to combat and prevent noise in the District through the Noise Task Force, a joint initiative between all three agencies.
The Noise Task Force ensures ABC licensed restaurants, taverns, nightclubs, hotels and multipurpose facilities—also known as on-premises establishments—are complying with District noise laws, including but not limited to:
If an establishment is found to be violating the Noise Control Act, DCRA will 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. ABRA may also fine the licensee or refer the matter to the ABC Board for enforcement action.
What does the Noise Task Force do?
The Noise Task Force ensures compliance with District noise laws by conducting checks outside of businesses across the District.
As part of Noise Task Force compliance checks, officials from DCRA stand outside of businesses and use a sound meter to take a number of readings to establish the reading record of the sound emanating from the licensed premises. This will determine whether the establishment is exceeding legal noise limits.
In addition to these checks, the Noise Task Force addresses complaints received from residents regarding noise at establishments. The Noise Task Force visits and monitors establishments where complaints have been received.
As mentioned above, if an establishment is found to be violating the Noise Control Act, DCRA will 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. ABRA may also fine the licensee or refer the matter to the ABC Board for enforcement action.
How can ABC establishments know if they are compliant with noise laws?
It is recommended that ABC establishments review their operations to ensure that they are not creating excessive noise, including:
- Regularly having employees and managers listen outside the establishment for excessive noise;
- Ensuring all microphones, speakers, subwoofers, and other audio equipment are tuned to appropriate volumes;
- Installing sound limiters on audio equipment and ensure that third parties (e.g., DJs) cannot override volume controls at the establishment;
- Avoiding playing music or providing entertainment outside; especially, during traditional sleeping hours;
- Ensuring all windows and doors remain closed when playing music or engaging in other loud activities at the establishment;
- Having the establishment’s operations and facilities reviewed by a certified or licensed sound professional and ensure that commercially reasonable soundproofing is installed; and
- Avoiding dumping bottles or throwing out trash late at night;
How often does the Noise Task Force conduct checks?
The Noise Task Force has re-evaluated when it conducts noise checks in the District and has made several changes to its processes. As part of this effort, noise checks will be conducted:
- Several times each week, and
- On days of the week when noise complaints increase.
This schedule may be changed at any time to ensure its effectiveness.
How do ABC licensed establishments know when the Noise Task Force is visiting?
ABC licensed establishments will not know when officials from the Noise Task force will be visiting their establishment. A letter was sent to ABC licensees on March 11, 2014 informing them that the Noise Task Force would begin stepping up checks in the District.
How can the public submit a noise complaint?
Noise complaints can be made to ABRA by:
- Calling (202) 329-6347 (hotline is answered until one hour after alcohol may be served at establishments)
- Submitting an e-Complaint to ABRA