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Noisy Neighbors

Before you buy a home, check the area for raucous people or other nuisances that can add to your stress.

November 19, 2000|CLARA YOUNG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For almost 13 years, Ben Smith of Hollywood has not been able to sleep with his windows open at night.

Smith's house is sandwiched between two related families who blast their six TV sets nightly until 3 in the morning. On top of that, the neighbors' three dogs bark endlessly and their children run in the backyard bouncing basketballs until midnight.

Smith tried everything. He wrote them letters, called the police, sent a paid mediator and used earplugs. He even invited his neighbors to a barbecue, hoping to win them over as friends. But despite his efforts and pleadings, nothing has helped.

Finally, he has decided to move. But there is no guarantee that his next house won't come with noisy neighbors too.

Noise has become a common problem in Los Angeles, where more than 9 million people live together with often only a driveway between them. In some places, not even that. The Los Angeles Police Department alone receives an average of 250,000 complaints a year relating to noise.

"We get all kinds of complaints. It ranges from blasting power saws to karaoke machines. You name it, we've heard it," says Officer Trevion Stokes of the LAPD Public Information Office.

According to Stokes, Smith's case is not unusual.

"But people are getting smarter these days," Stokes said. "They're checking out their neighbors before they move in."

On top of hiring real estate agents, reading newspaper ads, driving around and going to weekend open houses, home buyers are now becoming amateur Sherlock Holmeses. They're not just shopping for a house but investigating, interrogating and staking out potential neighbors and entire neighborhoods to see if there are any potential noisy neighbors in sight. And to many buyers, it's worth the time and the effort.

"I've been living next to noisy people all my life," says South Bay resident Larry Thomas, who had been a lifelong renter. "A home is an enormous investment, financially and emotionally. So when I bought my first house, I wasn't going to let noise ruin my peace and quiet."

Thomas did his homework. He knocked on his potential neighbors' doors and interviewed them extensively, using a questionnaire, before he entered escrow. It worked.

"In many ways, you have to be a private detective, a spy and even a reporter to ensure peace in your own home," says Susan Cuddy of Sherman Oaks, who bought her second home after staking out her neighborhood for three months.

"You can't rely on the sellers because their goal is to sell and get out. And you can't rely on the real estate agent because . . . he might not know a noise problem exists," Cuddy said. "People say, 'I can sue my neighbor for noise.' But it's extremely uncomfortable living next door to people you're fighting with. So the only person you can depend on is you."

Research repeatedly supports that noise is a health hazard and not just a nuisance. According to Les Blomberg, executive director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, losing sleep over noise or not being able to relax at home can cause health problems, physically and mentally.

Sleep deprivation mixed with agitation can lead to stress, heart-related problems, migraines and much more, Blomberg says. Irritability and poor work performance can also result.

"I learned my lesson the hard way," says Jane Wong of the Westside. "My first home came with a neighbor who insisted on mowing her lawn at 6 a.m. every weekend. If you wait until after you buy a house, it's too late."

These are some things to look for before choosing a home:

Stake out potential neighbors during different times of the day, including weekends, and the times you'll be home the most. Find out what activities usually occur around the neighborhood.

Check out how many people live in the houses next door. Is there a lot of foot traffic?

Find out if the neighbors have any animals or children. If so, are they unusually noisy?

If mechanical noises bother you, look for heat pumps and air conditioners on neighboring property, particularly near bedroom windows.

Stroll down the street and see if dogs bark at you and for how long.

Motorcycles and "muscle cars" parked on the street could be another warning sign. Talk to other homeowners on the block and see if there were any past complaints.

Be honest about your inquiries. Go and meet the potential neighbors and find out what kind of people they are. Are they friendly?

First impressions can mean a lot. Share your concerns. You can learn a lot from the way they react.

Ask the real estate agent why the home is being sold. Noise problems, by any chance? Homeowners and agents are obligated by law to disclose what they know.

If, after all this, you still end up next to a noisy neighbor, there are things you can do to exercise your right to enjoy peace and quiet in your own home:

* Talk to you neighbor.

Approach your neighbor in a calm and friendly manner. You'll be amazed at how many neighbors are simply not aware that they are disturbing someone.

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