Police Team Handles Noise Complaints

Times Staff Writer

Question: I'm a retiree and would like to give you some information concerning a noise problem we've experienced on our block for some time now.

My family and I live on a short block and, with the exception of two families, we're all senior citizens who own our homes. We've lived here more than 20 years and have always enjoyed a blissful and quiet life until the construction of an apartment building across the street.

One of the tenants of said building has been the source of much unnecessary noise, which we resent. Every day during the morning and again in the afternoon, he plays his stereo very loud--to the point where it can be heard all over the block. At our age, most of us are not in good health and we need to live without stress. When he is not playing his stereo, he plays an electric guitar which he hooks up to an amplifier at full blast--for 30 to 45 minutes at a time. Not long ago, I complained to the landlord who owns the building and he promised to do something about the noise, but the noise continues.

We called the police, but on two occasions were told that they don't respond to such calls until after 10 p.m. I know this isn't true, because, in the past, we've had similar problems and each time the police responded with good results. The other neighbors on the block, even though they're very much affected by the noise, are old and afraid to act. I ask you: What can be done about this?--K.B.

Answer: Your best bet, all hands agree, is to continue applying subtle pressure--that's something short of a hammerlock--on the landlord to get rid of the tenant.

However, as Charles A. Isham, executive vice president of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles concedes, this can be easier said than done--particularly (as is probably the case) if the apartment building falls under the city's Rent Stabilization Program.

"Every landlord knows that when you've got this sort of situation, Gresham's Law quickly moves into force: The bad tenant drives out the good tenants," Isham adds. "And before rent control, it was relatively painless: You simply informed the tenant that this conduct was unacceptable and you gave him 30 days to find a new apartment.

"Under rent control, though, you've got to show 'just cause' and the courts are reluctant to go along with eviction on this noise situation without a tremendous amount of supporting evidence--it really requires all of the other tenants going to court with the landlord to back him up.

"You have the same, or even more, trouble," Isham adds, "in trying to evict a tenant for using the apartment as a drug depot. You can't evict him until you can prove he's dealing drugs--until you make the police's case for them, in other words. And if you have trouble getting tenants to appear in court over a noise issue, you can imagine how they back away from appearing against a drug dealer. They figure they could end up dead."

Generally speaking, Lt. Dan Cooke of the Los Angeles Police Depratment admits, it's true that noise complaints--at least until 10 p.m.--have a low priority, right along with treed cats and obscene gestures. But having more pressing business isn't the entire reasonbehind the no-response-to-noise-complaints-before-10 policy. It's because we've turned into a nation of specialists and the LAPD now has a special Noise Enforcement Team to handle such matters. Made up of off-duty officers, the team has been active since '81 but, until relatively recently, has kept such a low profile that the public wasn't aware it existed.

Coordinated by Officer Chuck Masser, the 29-man team has had a spate of recent publicity, "and we've got about 560 open calls on the books now as a result of it, so we're running about 10 to 14 days behind.

"We give the person creating the disturbance a warning notice," Masser says, "which reminds him that, if it continues, the equipment can be impounded and he can end up in court facing a fine of $1,000 or more, and even jail."

So what happens if you call the Noise Enforcement Team and, on the day when the LAPD gets around to checking on it, your noisy neighbor has blown a fuse on his stereo and his guitar thumb is in a splint and the neighborhood is as serene as a tree-shaded lane in rural Vermont?

"It doesn't make any difference," Masser says. "We'll serve notice anyway, that the complaint has been made and we're prepared to follow up on it. It's usually enough to do the trick."

The real trick is not to call the standard LAPD number (and certainly not 911), but the Noise Enforcement Team's direct number: (213) 485-4573.

And don't bother to call about barking dogs. The Noise Enforcement Team leaves that problem up to the animal regulatory agencies.

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