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Editorials represent the institutional view of the newspaper. They are written and edited by the editorial staff, which operates separately from the news department. Editorial writers are not involved in newsroom operations.

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Editorial: Neighbors too loud? Charleston has a solution other governments should try.

Livability court.jpg (copy)

Judge Michael Molony listens to a case at Charleston’s Livability Court last fall. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

As the Charleston region grows, it’s not getting any quieter. And as leaders in cities, towns and counties across the region face growing calls to do something about this fact, we have an idea that might help.

Noise complaints are up in many jurisdictions, according to reporter David Slade. And that’s likely for a mix of reasons: People are spending more time at home due to COVID-19; the pandemic also may have shortened tempers; and the region’s growth has led to more outdoor music, parties, construction work, barking dogs, fireworks and loud vehicles.

Berkeley County recently felt compelled to issue a statement reminding residents about its new noise ordinance, the town of Summerville updated its noise regulations last year, and both Mount Pleasant and North Charleston are considering similar steps.

“It’s become a burden on us,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey told Mr. Slade. “Our law enforcement gets phone calls. We don’t have any way to resolve it.”

Cities and counties should consider carefully how best to regulate noise: They could cite specific decibel levels, hours or general language about when a noise can interfere with neighboring residents. But they also should consider what happens after a noise citation is written.

Such citations can carry a fine of up to $1,087 and even jail time, so police might be hesitant to write such tickets, and courts might be less than eager to convict — especially given the greater severity of other offenses and crimes they see. But these noise problems, like unkept yards and other quality of life issues, can matter a great deal to the immediate neighbors.

That’s why the city of Charleston set up a special Livability Court, and also has special officers to handle livability issues and make sure they don’t fall through the cracks. The court’s longtime judge, Michael Molony, often lets defendants off with a warning — if they agree to solve the problem. If they fail to follow through, they can expect less leniency next time.

Simply receiving a citation and having to show up and face a local judge often is punishment enough to encourage the person responsible for the bothersome noise to avoid a repeat.

Livability Court has existed for two decades and survived various legal challenges. While it hasn’t stopped noise problems in the city, it has gone a long way toward stopping repeated noise problems from the same sources, whether it’s a house rented by college students, a local bar or an especially loud dog.

As cities and metropolitan regions grow, so will noisy conflicts with neighbors. Local governments should do what they can to resolve these conflicts by finding the right balance between handing out excessively harsh punishments and simply ignoring the problem. Some people know how to be good neighbors; others need a little help to get there.

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