Arlington County Board Adopts Updated Noise Ordinance

  • Addresses State Supreme Court ruling, neighborhood concerns
  • Objective, quantifiable and defined measurement standards
  • Equitable and efficient enforcement
  • Civil penalties proposed; criminal penalties beefed up

ARLINGTON, Va. -– The Arlington County Board approved substantial updates to the County's Noise Control Ordinance to bring the ordinance into compliance with a 2009 Virginia Supreme Court ruling, and to address community concerns and a growing Arlington.

“These updates mark a big step forward in our attempts to balance our lively urban neighborhoods with the community annoyances that sometimes accompany them,” said Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette. “It's important that we consider the needs of all Arlingtonians – long-time residents, as well as new arrivals – who live and work in our community.

The Board voted 4 to 0 to approve the Updated Noise Ordinance.

Clear, Objective Standards for Determining Violations

The Noise Control Ordinance is the base standard for controlling environmental noise and is applied countywide, with the exception of Federal and State regulated properties, reservations and thoroughfares. The updates to the ordinance remove reference to the “reasonable person standard,” which was identified as unconstitutionally subjective language by the Virginia Supreme Court in its 2009 decision, Tanner v. City of Virginia Beach. The updates include:

  • New measurement standards to determine above-grade noise violations, including motor vehicle noise and sound-reading collections at high-rise locations and multi-unit buildings.
  • Clarity on allowed noise exemptions during emergencies, including use of generators, repairs and public utility work.
  • Enhanced prohibited acts to address issues such as loud music, nighttime gatherings in residential districts, idling commercial vehicles, use of lawn and garden maintenance equipment and animal noises.
  • New definitions for legal holidays, mixed-use districts, motorcycles, motor vehicles and multi-unit structures

Equitable Enforcement of Noise Control Standards

The Code Enforcement team of the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development manages the Noise Control Ordinance; both the Arlington County Police Department and Code Enforcement enforce the ordinance. The updates to the ordinance introduce civil penalties, as well as increased criminal penalties and a civil appeal process:

  • Civil penalties on violators after a warning is issued or posted on the premises.
  • Criminal penalties for violations have increased from $25 to not less than $100 or more than $2,500 upon conviction.
  • Civil appeal processes that keep a civil citation in full force and effect pending the final outcome of a contested citation.
  • Code Enforcement investigates complaints during regular business hours.
  • Police officers investigate complaints during nighttime and on weekends or holidays (and always with motor vehicles).

Solution to Noise Control in an Urban Environment

Because personal perceptions and tolerances of noise vary widely, noise ordinances need clear and definable standards to enforce. The revised standards include:

  • Stronger construction requirements for developers and owners to determine and provide industry-standard sound mitigation solutions at work sites.
  • Considered balance between legislating community annoyances and recognizing the County's long-term plans for creating lively, high-density, mixed-use urban neighborhoods.
  • Weighing the needs of both long-term homeowners and persons living and working in mixed-use corridors.
  • Limited exemptions to practically align the ordinance with expectations for equitable enforcement and compliance with constitutional standards.

Working collaboratively with the community on solutions

In the past year, the County invited residents, business owners, contractors, community leaders and other stakeholders to weigh in on the proposed recommendations to update the Noise Ordinance.

County staff worked with the Civic Federation, Altavista/Berkeley Ad Hoc Committee of Concerned Homeowners, Clarendon Alliance, Northern Building Industry Association, National Association of Industrial and Office Parks, and other community and business stakeholders to craft standards to objectively define a noise disturbance related to top complaints including loud parties or gatherings, construction noise, animal noise and live entertainment venues.


The ordinance now includes the best enforceable standards for Arlington, including streamlined and clarified language, definitions and noise disturbance measurements, and, for the first time, civil penalties for repeat violators.

Arlington County adopted the previous version of the Noise Control Ordinance on January 1, 1975, when the County had approximately 163,441 residents. Since then, the County's population has increased about 31 percent and estimated at 215,000. Many more County residents are now living in multifamily high-rise residential buildings.

In 2009, the Supreme Court of Virginia struck Virginia Beach's Noise Control Ordinance, due to its use of a reasonable person standard to determine violations. Since the high Court's ruling, the County enforced its noise control ordinance using other standards which had always been part of the ordinance. There have been only minor changes made to the ordinance since the mid-1970s.

To read the staff report, visit the County website. Scroll down to Item #31 on the May 10, 2014 Agenda Regular County Board Meeting.

Learn more with these frequently asked questions.

Arlington Va., is a world-class residential, business and tourist location that was originally part of the “10 miles square” parcel of land surveyed in 1791 to be the Nation's Capital. Slightly smaller than 26 square miles, it is the geographically smallest self-governing county in the United States, and one of only a handful with the prized Aaa/AAA/AAA bond rating. Arlington maintains a rich variety of stable neighborhoods and quality schools, and has received numerous awards for Smart Growth and transit-oriented development. Home to some of the most influential organizations in the world — including the Pentagon — Arlington stands out as one of America's preeminent places to live, visit and do business.