Dealing with noise problems
Most people find dealing with noise problems awkward. How do you tell your neighbour they are annoying? Whether you’ve never spoken to them, or they are a friend – the best approach is always, unless you have a good reason not to, to politely mention that they are causing noise.
Dealing with a noise problem
If you are being disturbed by noise from a neighbour:
First, approach your neighbour and explain politely that you are being troubled by noise. You may find this difficult, but often people are unaware that they are causing a problem. Most will be glad to do what they can to reduce noise. However, approach the matter carefully if you think your neighbour might react angrily to a complaint. In cases where you might feel threatened, or where previous personal approaches have not worked, talk to your local authority or housing manager.
Keep a record of noise disturbances – start a diary recording dates, times and cause of the noise, and the effects it has on you. If you have spoken to your neighbour, write to your them explaining the problem. Ask them to stop the noise nuisance, referring to any conversations you may have had and what, if anything, they agreed to do about it. Keep a record of any conversations you have or letters you write. If your neighbours are tenants, discuss your problem with the landlord (if they are private tenants, you may need to find out who the landlord is). Most Conditions of Tenancy require that tenants do not cause nuisance to neighbours and students may be bound by a behavioural code. A local authority or housing association should take action if a nuisance is being caused.
Action by the council
If the noise problem persists, contact your local environmental health department for advice. Under Section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA), they must take “all reasonable steps” to investigate your complaint. They may write to the person causing the noise saying that a complaint has been made, asking them to take any steps that may be necessary to reduce noise. If they believe a statutory nuisance is occurring or likely to occur or recur they must take action. A statutory nuisance is defined in the EPA as – “noise emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance”.
If the noise continues, an environmental health officer (EHO) or technical officer should call, ideally at a time when you expect the noise to occur, to see whether in their judgement the noise is a statutory nuisance. They will consider the type of noise, how loud it is, how often and at what times it occurs. If the local authority is satisfied that a statutory noise nuisance exists they must issue a notice requiring the neighbour to stop causing the nuisance. If the person, without reasonable excuse, fails to comply with the notice, he or she is guilty of an offence and can be prosecuted.
EHOs are the recognised experts and their professional judgement is very important – if they consider a nuisance is being caused a magistrate will normally accept their view. However in some cases the EHO may be sympathetic to the effect the noise is having on you, but unable to say it would represent a nuisance to the “average” person.
Local authorities take noise problems very seriously and will do their best to help. However, if you feel that the council is not fulfilling its legal obligations you can, as a last resort, complain to the local authority ombudsman.
Taking your own action on noise
Some types of noise occur occasionally or at night. If it is not possible for a local authority officer to witness it they may not feel able to take action on behalf of someone who has made a complaint. If this happens you can take independent action by complaining direct to the magistrates’ court under section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This is quite simple and need not cost much; you do not need to employ a solicitor, but it is advisable to obtain some legal advice.
Before approaching the court it is a good idea to write to the noise-maker saying that unless the noise is abated by a certain date (e.g. two weeks) you will complain to the magistrates’ court. Keep a copy of all correspondence. If the noise-maker ignores either a verbal or written request by you to abate the noise, contact the Justices’ Clerk’s Office at your local magistrates’ court explaining that you wish to make a complaint under section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
The Clerk of the Court should be able to advise you further. You must give at least three days’ notice of your intention to complain to the Magistrates’ Court to the person considered responsible for the noise. The notice should provide details of the complaint and may be delivered by hand or by post. A solicitor can do this for you (a solicitor’s letter will show you are serious). You need to prove to the magistrate, beyond reasonable doubt, that the noise you are complaining about amounts to a nuisance. The diary you keep will be important evidence. Although the law says that only one person needs to be affected for there to be a nuisance, in practice the evidence of other witnesses will strengthen your complaint.
A date will be set for the hearing and the person about whom you are complaining will be summoned to ourt. You will be required to explain your problem and produce evidence of the disturbance. You will have to give your own evidence and cross-examine your supporting witnesses to draw out their evidence. The neighbour will be able to cross-examine you and your witnesses and may produce their own evidence.
The law relating to business premises is slightly different: they can defend themselves by proving that they are using the “best practicable means” to prevent the noise.
If you prove your case the court will make an order requiring the nuisance to be abated, and/or prohibit recurrence of the nuisance. It also has the power at the time the nuisance order is made to impose a fine on the defendant (currently up to £5,000). If this order is ignored further court action will need to be taken; you must therefore continue to keep records of noise nuisance in case it is necessary to return to Court. If you fail to prove your case you may have to pay some of the defendant’s expenses in coming to court. Under the London Local Authorities Act 2004, local authority officers can issue fixed penalty notices to London residents who breach noise abatement notices
Noise disputes are often resolved informally. Legal action should be a last resort. It is unpleasant and will inevitably further sour the relationship between you and your neighbour. It is very important that you do your best to resolve any problem in a friendly way.
Many areas have mediation services which can help you to resolve noise and other neighbour problems. Your local authority should be able to refer you to local mediation services.
In England and Wales the following can help you find a mediation service:
Scottish Mediation Network
Searchable databse of mediation services in Scotland.