Should You Call in a Noise Complaint on a Family With a Crying Baby?

You’ve had a long day, and you have to get up early tomorrow morning. You’re tucked into bed and ready for a good night’s sleep when you hear it: Your neighbor’s baby is wailing away once again. Your sleep-deprived mind is split between two options: either do your best to ignore the infant’s unending crying fit, or file a noise complaint and let the police handle the problem. Many people have had to deal with this same scenario, and some folks on Quora shared their own stories on how they’ve dealt with it, but what would YOU do?

Some sleepless citizens highly recommend filing a noise complaint. 

Drew Eckhardt, a software engineer, wrote, “In many jurisdictions, you can make a complaint provide the noise level exceeds a proscribed limit regardless of source.”

“Having children is a choice, like getting a pet, except it’s a lifetime commitment,” he added. “Making that choice should confer no special exemption from respecting one’s neighbors and the law. Parents who won’t hold their baby, feed it, swaddle it, or whatever it takes to get five hours of nightly crying down to normal levels are sociopaths who need to be dealt with.”

Eckhardt continued: “Assuming the sound violates local law (you can measure with a cellphone app) call the police EVERY TIME. If you live someplace decent without more serious crime, they’ll come and talk to the offender. When it continues they’ll come, measure, and cite. Eventually the offender will decide it’s less work to play nice.”

“If not, take advantage of that to put the bullies in their place – tell them if they wake you, you’ll be returning the favor,” he suggested. “Calling CPS couldn’t hurt – five hours of nightly crying sounds like neglect to me. If that fails, or you lack the patience to deal with it, move- preferably before you reach the end of your rope. I have too much anxiety to live anywhere with shared walls ever since a sociopath regularly let its spawn wear shoes in the house and run screaming around the kitchen with hardwood floors above our bedroom between 5 a.m. and midnight.”

Rick Kennerly, a former patrol sergeant, said that he’s been on the receiving end of those calls. “The parents were embarrassed. It was spring and the windows were open. The parents were trying to crib train a child who had slept in their bed with them too long. The child was in full-bore rage,” he said.  “I asked to see the child. They understood and cooperated.  No marks or signs of abuse.”

“I explain their neighbors and I just had their baby’s best interests at heart,” he said. “They were actually thankful, quite understanding. It’s all in how you handle it.”

Many others quickly jumped to the defense of the baby and the child’s frazzled parents:

“My mom was a divorcée,” Rose D’Cruz wrote. “Back then when I was a baby, my mother moved around a lot because there was no one to take care of me.” She admitted that she was a noisy baby who would cry nonstop for hours, “yapping all the time till mom would look over and tell me to shut up. That was the magical word that would silence me up from yapping.”

“Anyway, I would wake my neighbors with my baffling howl of tears,” she explained. “Middle-aged childless couple in their late 40s. This went on for nearly every night until one day they came knocking up at our door. Mother was petrified while answering the door. Dealing with raging angry neighbors was the last thing that she needed right now. She felt helpless.”

“Young lady, do you need any help?” the man asked kindly.  “No…” — my mother broke down. She said the couple embraced her mother and invited her to their home.

“They made her tea, offered biscuits and the man cradled me till I slept on his arms. This went on for months till I outgrew the crying phase.” She said she still calls that place home.

“Here’s a thought,” D’Cruz advised. “Offer your neighbor kindness instead. Show empathy. Make them tea and biscuits. The parent and baby will be forever grateful towards you.”

Nikki Primrose, a teacher and RN, said that calling the police sounds like a terrible idea. “Some of the things that a police officer could be doing at any given time: Arresting criminals, catching drunk drivers, helping victims of traffic accidents, or having a nap under the overpass. I’m sure they’d all prefer any of the above to handling a noise complaint over a crying baby.”

“What exactly are you expecting the police to do? Smother the kid?” she asked. “Take her away to baby booking (not actually for babies) on a charge of teething in the first degree? The police have one main objective when responding to a noise complaint, and that is to stop the noise. Secondary to that will be the issuance of a citation, likely based on your complaint, which means they’ll find out exactly who called the cops on them. Then you’ll have to skip work one day to appear in court, and the parents of the infant will lose money that they could have spent on pacifiers and teething rings.”

She continued: “That all assumes that the officer who responds is willing to even issue a citation to the parents of a crying infant. Most people (not you, obviously) understand that babies cry and that most parents are already doing everything they can to soothe the little creature. You think that the crying is annoying on your side of the wall? I can guarantee you that it’s a lot worse in the baby’s home. My husband and I have been taking turns sitting up all night pushing our daughter back and forth in her little swing, as that is the only way to even temporarily soothe her right now. Trust me when I tell you that if there was a safe and responsible way to stop the wailing, we would have resorted to that by now.”

“You know those older-type movies where neighbors engage in full-on war? That’s what would happen if you called the police on me right now,” she said. “I am so sleep deprived that I go about my life spoiling for a fight, as that would at least wake me up. I spent like five whole minutes arguing about a fifty cent discount last week, and yesterday I got pissed when someone blocked the drive-through trash thing and the lady at Popeye’s wouldn’t throw away my old ice tea. I actually threw it on the ground, so it splashed up on us both, right in front of the window, and it felt good. You really don’t want to battle the fatigued parent of a crying baby. We’re not quite sane.”

Naturally, there are always few oddball suggestions:

Claire Owens wrote, “The baby is creating a noise that is causing a disturbance, and potentially [distracting] or stressing others. Yeah, the parents can’t control the baby and they don’t like it either — but they knew what they were getting into when they had a kid. They chose to get themselves into this, you didn’t. If they don’t want people complaining about their baby, maybe they should live in a place where you aren’t so close to your neighbors.”

“But at the same time, there’s still nothing they can do about it, and if cops show up both parties will just be annoyed,” she argued. “Even if they do get a ticket or whatever, it’s not going to make the baby shut up. Do the right thing for selfish reasons.”

“Sure. Go for it,” John Colagioia said (sarcastically, I think). “It’ll be a good lesson. After all, if a baby is crying when the parents are able to take care of it, the baby will certainly be quieter when the parents are distracted talking to a police officer. Because they’re obviously doing this maliciously, to specifically hurt you. Bonus:  If the cop has kids, he might consider this to be filing a false police report, since crying is neither illegal nor controllable. Most jurisdictions consider that a crime, as far as I know.  Again, another important lesson.”

Personally, I’m firmly in the “ignore it, soundproof the house, and sleep on” camp, but I’m curious to hear what you would do in this situation. If you’ve stayed up all night with a shrieking baby night after night, either as the child’s parent or as a drowsy neighbor, how did you handle it?