August 2nd, 2022

Your Noisy/Nosy Neighbor (Depending on Your Perspective)

As we enter the depths of summer and the eventual cool, crisp autumn, many of us enjoy a beverage al fresco at our favorite local establishments.  These bars and restaurants often do quite well during this time period.  Additionally, many of these bars and restaurants try to enhance this entertainment by having a band or some ambient music playing.  While this may be great for the atmosphere, décor, and profit margins of our restaurant and bar owners, it has often been the bane of the spring, summer, and fall for neighbors.  In fact, this has been a longstanding issue for many different bar owners.  Amplified sound, if it could be heard at all, outside the licensed premises where alcohol was served (so, even if licensed and you had a deck, this was almost guaranteed to cause a violation), constituted a violation. 

For many bar and restaurant owners, these violations continued to stack up as you could have an annoyed or nosy neighbor constantly calling (hence prior guidance that 6 violations were needed to constitute a reason for denial of renewal as a nuisance bar).  The only way to address this potentially devastating loss of licensure was to get your local municipality to take over enforcement, which was not an easy process.  Having been involved as both an applicant and a solicitor, these requested changes were never easy and such requests often involved a public that was opposed, leading to an inevitable clash between a small business owner and a disenchanted public. 

However, on July 11, 2022, Governor Wolf signed a new law that amended the Liquor Code and set an automatic determination that a noise violation is now set at 75 decibels at the property line.  This will be a great boon to bar owners and will set a much simpler standard than the patchwork enforcement that previously existed.  There are also hourly restrictions.  The change is summarized by PLCB as follows:

Section 493(34) of the Liquor Code currently prohibits a licensee from using, inside or outside of its licensed premises, a loudspeaker or similar device whereby the sound of music or other entertainment, or the advertisement thereof, can be heard beyond the licensee’s property line. [47 P.S. § 4-493(34)]. Act 67 adds the following exception to this general prohibition for all licensees located in Class 2A through Class 8 counties (all counties except Philadelphia and Allegheny). Licensees in such counties may have amplified music/entertainment as long as the music/entertainment does not exceed 75 decibels beyond the licensee’s property line. However, there are time restrictions to this exception. It only applies from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Sundays through Thursdays, and from 10:00 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Municipalities retain their authority under section 493.1(b) of the Liquor Code to petition the Board to allow their own noise ordinances to supersede the Liquor Code’s provision regarding amplified sound, including the exception set forth above. [47 P.S. § 4- 493.1(e)(1-2)]. While traditionally, the municipal exception loosens the rules dealing with amplified music/entertainment, Act 67 could result in situations where the municipality’s noise ordinance is stricter than the standard found in the Liquor Code. Act 67 further provides that the enforcement of this exception will be handled by the Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (“BLCE”). [47 P.S. § 4- 493.1(e)(4)]. Finally, Act 67 changed the minimum number of adjudicated noise citations, which could form the sole basis for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s, Bureau of Licensing to object to a licensee’s renewal application. The number of noise citations necessary is reduced from six citations to three citations. [47 P.S. § 4-470(a)(1)].

Any bar or restaurant owner interested in learning more, please feel free to reach out to our office and we’d be happy to discuss this exciting new change with you.

The content found in this resource is for informational reference use only and is not considered legal advice. Laws at all levels of government change frequently and the information found here may be or become outdated. It is recommended to consult your attorney for the most up-to-date information regarding current laws and legal matters.