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Chuck Boyk
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Personal injury Attorney Dale Emch addresses readers' legal questions

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How can the neighbor of a loud bar get them to obey the local noise ordinance? Toledo, Ohio car accident attorney Dale Emch discusses ways to get businesses to cooperate in his most recent “Legal Briefs” column in the Toledo Blade. You can contact our office to ask Attorney Dale Emch your car accident, workers’ compensation, or other legal questions, and also have them considered for publication in the Toledo Blade.

Dear Dale: I live in West Toledo near a popular bar. During the warm-weather months, the bar plays music on its outdoor patio that is so loud the neighbors nearby can’t hear their televisions or sleep at night. I have complained to the police and to members of city council. I got a letter from the police saying they would remind the bar of the noise ordinance and to call back if it remains a problem. I have called numerous times and nothing changes. The music usually starts around 10 p.m. I get up at 5:15 for work and I can’t keep getting four hours of sleep at night. I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job because I’ve actually fallen asleep at my desk.

Answer: I don’t blame you for being outraged and out of patience. You should be able to enjoy your home without having a neighbor – whether it’s a bar or just the guy next door – disrupt your life by playing loud music. You should not have to lose sleep, let alone worry about keeping your job, just because this bar has decided that blasting music helps its business.

I’m going to recommend a few courses of action for you to consider, some legal and some simply political.

You referenced Toledo’s noise ordinance, which certainly applies here. A few sections of the municipal code prohibit loud music or amplified sound past 9 p.m. It seems like the bar is clearly violating the ordinance and that the police could cite the owner. The problem, though, is that a violation of the noise laws is only punishable by a minor misdemeanor and it doesn’t appear from the code that there’s any way to escalate the penalties based on repeat infractions. Minor fines and court costs may not be enough of a deterrent for the bar owner if he feels that playing music on the patio generates money for his business. And the truth is that most Toledo cops probably don’t rank hassling a bar over loud music very high on the priority list compared to the serious crimes they have to confront every night.

You also mentioned you’ve contacted a few city councilmen, which is a smart move. I think you’d get a better response, though, if you and your neighbors worked together on this problem. One person complaining can be ignored as a whiny crank, but a group of people tenaciously and aggressively demanding action shows an elected official that this is a wider concern. Despite the knocks that political officials take every day – sometimes deservedly – most of them really do want to help when they can. So, if you can present your district councilman and all the at-large councilman with a petition signed by a lot of your neighbors, it might motivate them to take action.

And, while we’re talking about city council, let’s not forget about Mayor Finkbeiner. Call his office and complain to as many people as you can get on the phone. Ask to speak to him personally. Hand-deliver the petition to his office and send a copy to him in the mail. The mayor has a lot on his plate, but if you can get his attention, he’s the type of guy who could certainly solve this problem with one phone call if he decided to get the city’s law department involved.

This is the point at which politics intermingles with the law. The city could file a civil action against the bar alleging a nuisance and ask for a temporary and permanent halt to the loud music.

If the city won’t pursue a nuisance action, maybe your neighbors will feel strongly enough about the situation to pool money for a lawyer. Like the city, the lawyer could seek an order from the court that would prohibit the bar from playing loud music on its outdoor patio. If your case is strong enough, the court could issue a temporary order that would be effective immediately and would stay in place until the judge decides whether a permanent prohibition is warranted. A judge’s order would have teeth the bar owner would be unwise to ignore.

That said, you should be forewarned that nuisance law can be somewhat tricky. As one court observed, “there is perhaps no more impenetrable jungle in the entire law than that which surrounds the word ‘nuisance.’” From my limited review of nuisance cases, I think that’s a fair assessment, but you hire lawyers to figure that stuff out.

It seems to me that you’ve taken this as far as you can on your own. You and your neighbors need to band together so you can put some pressure on the elected officials to get this problem solved. If that doesn’t work, you’re going to have to find the money for a lawyer and prepare for a fight.