Noise bill could clarify DC audio level limits, lower fines

WASHINGTON — A bill that establishes clear noise-level restrictions and lowers the fine for violators will be voted on by the D.C. Council on Tuesday.

“It’s simply a way to accommodate both the street performers and the people who are affected by excessively loud, disturbing noise,” said Councilwoman Mary Cheh.

The Amplified Noise Amendment Act was introduced last month. It sets clear audio limits on noise based on what the level is in the nearest home. It also lowers the maximum fine that can be levied from $1,000 to $300.

Under the bill, violators would first receive a verbal warning from a D.C. police officer or other law enforcement officer. If they continue or resume after receiving that warning, they could be punished by a fine up to $300, up to 10 days imprisonment or both.

The version of the bill that the council is taking up Tuesday is an emergency measure so the changes can go into effect immediately. If approved, it’ll last 90 days. The council will then take up the full bill in the fall when it comes back from recess.

“I don’t think we’re going to be that interested in that because it may be a little too much, so it’s not going to be in the bill on Tuesday,” said Cheh.

Cheh said the issue is new amplifiers that can generate noise louder than ever before. Now, with the District encouraging neighborhoods to put businesses and residential areas in the same space, many are being disturbed by the blaring music in their homes.

“It’s unfair, because the city itself has created the problem by encouraging residential areas and businesses to coexist downtown,” said Cheh.

At a public hearing on Monday, the council heard input from everyone — from performers who were concerned about penalties to doctors who said noise had disturbed their patient care.

Cheh hopes that this bill will be a good compromise that allows performers, businesses and residents to coexist.

“No one’s trying to stop the street performers from performing,” said Cheh. “In fact, people look forward to it.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify the fines and punishment violators could potentially face. 

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