Neighbourhood Noise Nuisances
What Constitutes A Noise Nuisance?
A noise nuisance is a noisy disturbance that materially, and therefore significantly, interferes with a person’s lawful rights to the enjoyment of their home.
Audibility alone is not necessarily an indication of a nuisance as neighbours living in close proximity are always going to be likely to be aware of each other’s activities and it is not reasonable to expect a silent environment. Nuisance is judged from the viewpoint of the average person’s sensitivity to noise and no allowance can be made for people on shift work or those with particularly sensitive hearing. Case law also requires that the noise must arise from the unreasonable behaviour or conduct of the person responsible. The law does not specify noise levels or set time limits but requires an objective judgement to be made by us based upon factors such as:-
• How often the noise occurs
• Its duration
• How loud it is
• The time of day/night
• The character of the noise (whether it has any annoying characteristics)
• The nature of the area
We must also consider the reasonable likelihood of us being able to gather the necessary evidence or witness the noise which in the case of random or short lived noise occurrences is rarely possible.
When investigating noise nuisance complaints certain noises should be tolerated, these are known as ‘lifestyle noise’, e.g.
• Dropping objects/moving furniture
• Light Switches
• General talking
• Slamming doors
• Toilet flushing
• Babies crying
• Children playing
This is because case law states that noise from the ordinary and reasonable use of residential premises cannot be considered nuisance. Case law also prevents us from requiring any owner or occupier of premises from carrying out works to improve insulation.
Night Noise Guidelines
The World Health Organisation (WHO) published a review on the effects of exposure to night-time noise. This document is entitled ‘Night noise guidelines for Europe’, the review was done so to assist policy makers in reducing the effects of night-time noise.
Environmental noise can be a threat to public health with one in five Europeans regularly exposed to sound levels at night that could significantly damage health. The review led to the following conclusions;
• Sleep is a biological necessity and disturbed sleep is associated with a number of adverse impacts on health
• There is sufficient evidence for biological effects of noise during sleep to increase heart rate, arousals, sleep stage changes and awakening
• There is sufficient evidence that night noise exposure causes self-reported sleep disturbance, increase in medicine use, increase in body movements and (environmental) insomnia
• While noise induced sleep disturbance is a health problem in itself it also leads to further consequences for health and wellbeing
• There is limited evidence that disturbed sleep causes fatigue, accidents and reduced performance
• There is limited evidence that noise at night causes hormaone level changes and clinical conditions such as cardiovascular illness, depression and other mental illness.
In the UK the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) compiled a report for Local Authorities in relation to Neighbourhood Noise Policies and Practice. In this report, appendix 2: Summary of current technical standards DEFRA refers to domestic noise stating that no specific standards or codes of practice have been written for the purpose of giving guidance or an objective assessment methodology to assist officers in investigating routine neighbour and neighbourhood noise. The criteria of the Noise Act 2004, do not, of course, define statutory nuisance which may exist even when those criteria are not exceeded and local authority officers are therefore left to extract guidance from other publications.
What You Need To Do
Step 1 - Keep Calm
This may seem like a tall order as you won’t feel calm if you are suffering from sleepless nights due to noise from your neighbour. Dealing with a difficult neighbour who may be acting unreasonably is always difficult, but if you are not calm it becomes impossible.
Step 2 - Check That You Are Being Reasonable
At first this may seem ridiculous as obviously you believe it is your neighbour who is behaving unreasonably. However, your being reasonable is an essential requirement if you are to deal successfully with the problem you are facing.
1. Should this matter go to court, you will need to be seen as a very reasonable person. Your neighbour may well seek to show the opposite. He could suggest that he is a normal reasonable person trying to enjoy the comfort of his own home without giving offence, whilst you are over-sensitive and neurotic persecuting him by making unreasonable demands. You need to prove that this is not the case.
2. The courts will only consider something a nuisance if it would be a nuisance to a ‘reasonable man or woman’. It is a principal of English and Manx law that it does not exist to protect the abnormally sensitive. So just pause to consider if what you expect from your neighbour really is reasonable. Complaints about the occasional party or loud music are unlikely to impress; such things are all part of living in a community. Remember, all neighbours cause some kind of inconvenience – even you may!
Right! You are now CALM, REASONABLE and certain that you are dealing with a nuisance that significantly affects you.
Step 3 - The Friendly Approach
You may not feel very friendly but life will be a lot easier if you are able to persuade your neighbour to change his ways. You are much more likely to achieve a positive response if you speak quietly to him rather than shout and scream. At this stage it is best to assume that he, like you, is a reasonable person. Invite his co-operation.
So if you haven’t already spoken to your neighbour in a calm and reasonable manner about your concerns, you should do. This isn’t always easy but is important and does show that you want to sort the matter out in a neighbourly fashion.
Step 4 - If Things Don’t Improve
If, when you speak to your neighbour he refuses to change his ways, is rude or threatening, then further action is required.
It would be useful to put your complaint in writing to your neighbour. A brief, yet firm but polite letter advising him of why you consider he is being unreasonable should be sent. You may wish to state that if matters do not improve you will have to complain to the authorities. The letter must be dated and you should keep a copy.
You will also need to keep a diary of any further incidents when you consider that your neighbour has caused a nuisance, and a form for this purpose is enclosed. It is important that you complete this form and the questionnaire in full. Such a record should be kept for a sufficient period to show that the nuisance significantly affects you and that the noise is not ‘occasional’ or a ‘one off’ event. It is difficult to say how long the diary should be kept for, because circumstances vary so much.
Step 5 - Notify The Authorities
When you believe that you have sufficient evidence in the diary you must sign it, indicating that you are prepared to give evidence in court, if necessary. Then you should return the sheets and questionnaire and any other relevant documentation to support your complaint to the person who supplied the documentation.
Step 6 - Action By The Authority
An officer of the authority will raise the matter with your neighbour and in some cases may need to take sound level measurements. If the authority is then satisfied that a nuisance exists, a legal notice may be served on the person causing the nuisance requiring them to stop.
If the nuisance does not stop, then the authority may take court action. If the person responsible for the nuisance is then found guilty they can be fined after conviction and if they are a tenant of the local council, they be evicted for breach of their tenancy.
Step 7 - What If the Authority Will Not Take Action
It may seem that after their investigation that the authority is satisfied that no legal nuisance exists. In such circumstances you can take civil action yourself through the courts. But if you can’t convince the investigating officer, you may not be able to convince the court that legal action is appropriate.
Step 8 - Making A Complaint Direct To Court
If the authority is not able to take legal action, perhaps because they cannot verify your complaint then you can.
Before you approach the court make sure you have good written records of the dates and times the nuisance has occurred, how long it continues and what effect it has on you. You also need to note the occasions you have spoken to your neighbour and copies of any letters sent.
If you have not already done so, it may be wise to write to your neighbour advising him that you consider he is causing a nuisance and unless it stops, you will take your complaint direct to court through a civil action. Make sure the letter is dated and keep a copy. If there is no improvement you should contact the Clerk to the local courts. Address your letter to the Clerk of the Court and advise them that you wish to make a complaint under section 5 of the Public Health Act 1990.
The Clerk to the Court will probably make an appointment for you to see him. At this meeting he will explain the court procedure and ask you to demonstrate that you have a genuine case. You therefore have to be prepared to show him the records you have been keeping of the nuisance and your requests to your neighbour. You should also let the Clerk know if any other authorities have dealt with this complaint prior.
If the Clerk decides that you have an arguable case (you don’t have to prove your case at this point) a summons will be served on your neighbour and he will be required to attend court at a later date.
Step 9 - Attend Court
Before attending court you have to decide whether you wish to be represented by an Advocate. You do not have to – but it is recommended. It may be of assistance to contact the Citizens Advice Bureau.
If you decide to present your own case, you must be well organised as well as reasonable. The Clerk to the Court will give you guidance at the hearing, but have all your facts, dates, copies of letters, etc ready to refer to as necessary.
Your neighbour will probably attend court and may well make claims about your own neighbourly conduct or unreasonableness; so be reasonable and do not get involved in swapping personal abuse. Just stick to the facts and demonstrate how patient you have been.
If your neighbour is found to be causing a nuisance the court will make an order requiring him to stop. If your neighbour breaks the requirements of the order he can be fined and a penalty imposed for each day he continues to cause a nuisance. If your neighbour is not found to be causing a nuisance you may be liable for court costs. Both you and your neighbour have a right to appeal the decision of the courts.