Noise from neighbours is a common source of nuisance. The main problems are barking dogs, loud music or TV, shouting, banging doors and DIY activities. Remember that no house or flat is totally soundproof – everyone can expect some noise from neighbours. Neighbour noise could be disturbing you for the following reasons.
- The neighbours are behaving unreasonably, for instance by playing loud music late at night or allowing their dog to bark all day.
- The neighbours are behaving normally, but sound insulation in your home may not be good enough to cut out the sounds of everyday living.
- The sensitivity of people to noise and different types of noise varies – sounds that are enjoyable to some people may irritate others.
What can you do?
First, approach your neighbour and explain politely that you are being troubled by noise. You may find this difficult, but often people are unaware of the problem they are causing. 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.
If your neighbour continues to cause a nuisance:
- Contact the Council and speak with the Environmental Health Department for advice/assistance.
- Start a diary recording dates and times of excessive noise, what the noise is and the effect it has on you. If you have an appropriate smart device you could use The Noise App rather than write down the details of incidents.
- Write to your neighbours explaining the effect the noise is having on you. Ask them to stop the noise nuisance, referring to any conversations you may have already had and what, if anything, they agreed to do about it.
- If your neighbours live in a Council property, please contact the Housing Department. Most Conditions of Tenancy require that tenants do not cause nuisance to neighbours; we may be able to take action if a nuisance is being caused.
- Keep a record of any conversations you have or letters you write.
Action by the Council
Under Section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, we must take "all reasonable steps" to investigate your complaint. We may write to the person causing the nuisance saying that a complaint has been made, asking them to take any steps that may be necessary to reduce noise. If we believe a statutory nuisance is occurring or likely to occur or recur we must take action. A statutory nuisance is defined in the Act 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 will 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 may ask if you can record the noise, perhaps if they can't attend at the time of the noise, or in addition to a visit. This will allow the Officer to determine if the noise is likely to cause a nuisance or not. The recording of the noise can be done by you following an Officer installing noise monitoring equipment in your home, or by asking you to record the noise using your own smart device and The Noise App if appropriate.
They will consider the type of noise, how loud it is, how often and at what times it occurs. If we are satisfied that a statutory noise nuisance exists we can issue a notice requiring the neighbour to stop causing the nuisance. If the person, without reasonable cause, fails to comply with the notice he or she is guilty of an offence and can be prosecuted. We also have the power to confiscate any equipment that is causing a noise nuisance.
EHOs are the recognised experts and their professional judgement is very important - if they consider that 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.
We take noise problems very seriously and will do our best to help. However, if you feel that we are not fulfilling our legal obligations, you can, as a last resort, complain to the local authority ombudsman.
If the problem seems to be inadequate sound insulation, there are DIY measures that can help: "Improving Sound Insulation in Homes" from the Building Research Establishment Free leaflet on improving sound insulation.
Taking your own Action
Some types of noise occur occasionally or at night. If it is not possible for an EHO to witness it they may not feel able to take action on behalf of an individual who has made a complaint. Should this occur 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 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 to 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 solicitors’ 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 claim.
A date will be set for the hearing and the person about whom your are complaining will be summoned to Court. 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. A solicitor will help, but you can take action on your own. The law relating to business premises is slightly different: they can defence 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.
Are there alternatives to legal action?
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 the problem in a friendly way. Some areas have mediation services which can help you to resolve neighbour noise problems. To find out if there is one near you contact:
Tel. 0117 904 6661.
The Noise Network can also provide advice and information on neighbour noise:
PO Box 968
Tel: 01923 664500 (priced consultancy)
For more information, or to make a noise complaint, please contact us on
Tel: (01437) 764551