Noisy neighbours

The law expects us to tolerate a certain level of irritation and inconvenience as we go about our daily lives. However, where the conduct of a person ‘substantially’ interferes with our lives their conduct may amount to a private or public nuisance.

A private nuisance is a continuous, unlawful and indirect interference with the use or enjoyment of land, or of some right over or connected with the land.

A public nuisance is an unlawful act or omission which endangers or interferes with the lives, comfort, property or common rights of the public. There are several pieces of legislation which deal with public nuisance. Where a nuisance is created under a piece of legislation it is referred to as a ‘statutory nuisance’.

What action can be taken in relation to a noisy neighbour?

A friendly chat with the neighbour will often resolve the problem – they may not even realise how noisy they are being. If the neighbour rents his property, it’s worth speaking to their landlord about the problem if it persists. It may also be possible to resolve the matter through mediation – many local authorities provide a mediation service for such purposes.

If the problem cannot be resolved informally or through mediation it may be necessary to take the matter to court. In the case of statutory nuisances, the matter can also be pursued by complaining to the environmental health department of a local authority.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (as amended) ‘statutory nuisances’ include:

  • noise emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance;
  • noise that is prejudicial to health or a nuisance and is emitted from or caused by a vehicle, machinery or equipment in a street.

There are exceptions, however, for noise caused by aircraft (other than model aircraft) and for noise made by traffic, naval, military and air forces and for noise made by political demonstrations and demonstrations supporting or opposing causes and campaigns.

For the purpose of the Act ‘noise’ includes vibrations and ‘prejudicial to health’ means injurious, or likely to cause injury, to health.

Local authorities have a duty to carry out inspections from time to time to detect any statutory nuisances and have a duty to take reasonably practicable steps to investigate any complaints they receive.

If a local authority is satisfied a statutory nuisance exists, or is likely to occur or recur, it is obliged to serve an ‘abatement notice’ on the person responsible for the nuisance or, where the nuisance arises from a structural defect in a property, on the owner of the property. If the person responsible for the nuisance cannot be found or the nuisance has not yet occurred, the abatement notice can be served on the owner or occupier of the premises.

An abatement notice can require the abatement of a nuisance or prohibit or restrict its occurrence or recurrence or can require the execution of such works, and the taking of such other steps, as may be necessary to abate the nuisance or prohibit or restrict its occurrence or recurrence.

If a person contravenes or fails to comply with an abatement notice, they can be prosecuted and fined.

The Noise Act 1996

Under the Noise Act 1996 (NA 1996), local authorities have wide powers and duties in relation to the investigation of complaints relating to excessive noise being emitted from dwellings during night hours (between 11pm and 7am).

Where a local authority is satisfied excessive noise is emitting from a dwelling during night hours it can serve a ‘warning notice’. If a person who has been served with a warning notice continues to emit or allow to be emitted excessive noise from their dwelling, they may be given a ‘fixed penalty notice’ or may be prosecuted and fined.

Local authorities also have the power, under NA 1996, where a warning notice is breached, to enter a premises and seize and remove any equipment emitting the noise. It is a criminal offence to wilfully obstruct a local authority officer while they are exercising such power.

Evidence of the nuisance

It is a good idea to keep a diary of the incidents and the effects on you and what you have done to try to resolve the matter. If the noise affects others, ask them to keep a diary as well. This will provide valuable evidence in any future court proceedings. They may also help to persuade a local authority to take action.