Noisy neighbours

Noisy neighbours can ruin what would otherwise be an idyllic and peaceful garden but what, if anything can be done to restore peace and tranquillity?

When can noisy neighbours become a nuisance?

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 nuisance.

There are 2 types of nuisance, a “private nuisance” and a “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 a number of pieces of legislation which deal with particular types of 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?

In many instances a friendly chat with the neighbour will resolve the problem. Quite often they won’t even realise how noisy they are being. If the neighbour rents his property, it may be worth speaking to their landlord about the problem if it persists. It may also be possible to resolve the matter through mediation and 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 pursue the matter by way of Court proceedings. In the case of statutory nuisances the matter can also be pursued by way of making a complaint to the environmental health department of a local authority.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (as amended) the following acts, amongst other things, constitute “statutory nuisances”:

  • 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 for the purpose of detecting any statutory nuisances and have a duty to take reasonably practicable steps to investigate any complaints they receive.

If a local authority is satisfied that 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, if found guilty, they can be fined.

The Noise Act 1996

Under the Noise Act 1996 local authorities have wide powers and certain 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 that excessive noise is being emitted from a dwelling during night hours it has the power to serve a notice about the noise known as a “warning notice”. If a person who has been served with a warning notice continues to emit or allow to be emitted from their dwelling excessive noise, they may be given a “fixed penalty notice” or may be prosecuted and, if found guilty, fined.

Local authorities also have the power, under the Noise Act 1996, where a warning notice is breached, to enter onto the premises and seize and remove any equipment which appears to being or has been used in the emission of 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 generally a good idea to keep a diary of the incidents, the effects the incidents have on you and when approaches were made to the neighbour for the purpose of trying to resolve the matter. If the noise affects others you should ask them to keep a diary as well. These will provide valuable evidence in any court proceedings that may be brought. They may also help to persuade a local authority to take action.