Recommended by Tony Booth
Everyone at some point in their lives has probably had to put up with noisy neighbours. There are various regulations to help deal with this type of anti-social behaviour and many local authorities have become extremely proactive in trying to help wherever they can.
Persistent high levels of noise emanating through a party wall can be invasive, frustrating and annoying. But what can you do to resolve the situation, if you are a victim of this type of disturbance?
In the first instance, it is best to approach the neighbour to discuss the matter and to request they reduce the level of the intrusion in the future. Such discussions are often best undertaken the day after the event, as both sides may not be amenable to a calm or rational conversation at the height of the disturbance itself.
In extreme circumstances, the police can be called – but in my experience, this rarely produces a long-standing or satisfactory outcome. The police don’t have many laws they can rely on to deal with noise disturbance, though they can intervene if they feel the noise being produced is excessive for the time of day or night or if they feel it could be breaching local by-laws or if it is being produced alongside criminal activity.
If the incidents of noise persist, despite you approaching the offender(s) and asking them to stop, you can contact the local authority environmental health department. Many councils have a specific noise abatement office manned by professionally trained personnel, so ask whether your own council have such a department. At the first sign of a growing problem, start keeping a diary of the incidents, because this is exactly what the council will ask you to do after you have filed a complaint. The diary may be used as evidence, if necessary, so be as precise and honest as possible and record the name and contact details of anyone else that may have witnessed the incident(s).
The diary will also be used during any attempt at mediation, which is a service most councils offer at the first sign of things seemingly getting out of hand. The idea here is to prevent a deadlock situation arising, where both parties become obstinate or intractable. While there is willing communication, there is a chance matters might be resolved without the need for more formal action.
If nothing is resolved, despite the council’s intervention, and the noise problem persists – the council has a number of options, which they can adopt in isolation or collectively. They can, for example, seize goods (such as hi-fi systems), they can also remove a landlord’s right to rent the property (in the case of a tenanted dwelling) and they can take the matter to court, when all else fails.
The Noise Act 1996
Their powers are largely provided by The Noise Act 1996, which was amended by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act in 2003. The Act provides the authority for a responsible officer to serve a warning notice to the offender(s) and at their premises, during the hours of 11pm and 7am. This assumes measurements have been taken inside the complainant’s property and the noise coming from the neighbour is considered excessive. If the offender fails to observe the warning notice, more formal actions can be taken.
There are, however, certain things the council cannot do in respect of noise complaints.
They cannot help in situations where two neighbouring properties suffer from basic design and construction faults, as with the case of inadequate soundproofing between party walls. They also can’t help where the incident complained about is a one-off, such as celebratory party, or where the complaint itself is unreasonable.
A friend of mine, who just happens to be a noise abatement officer in the northwest of England, gave one example of unreasonableness. She told me of a recent case where someone had actually complained about deafeningly loud sheets that were flapping about in the wind while drying on a washing line. It seems the term ‘excessive noise’ clearly means different things to different people.
What a Screamer!
Which leads me rather nicely to tell you about an amazing but true story that was recently reported on in the press. A woman from the northeast of England has been fined over £500 for five breaches of a noise abatement Notice and also got an ASBO (anti-social behaviour order). The formal court order bans her from making excessive noise anywhere in the country for the next four years.
It is said the ASBO was in place a mere three days before she breached it and after making three breaches over 8 days, the police arrested her. Newcastle Crown Court consequently remanded her in custody to prevent further breaches.
And what kind of noise disturbance, you might ask, was the woman creating? Was she fulfilling her desire to become the next big rock-chic, practicing on her electric guitar all night? No. Was she hosting wild parties every night? No. Had she lost her hearing aid and consequentially turned the volume of her TV to the max? No.
Apparently, she was arrested for her noisy lovemaking!
And (I swear this is true) my friend told me that in fact one of the most common reasons for complaint is due to noisy neighbours’ lovemaking or - as some councils apparently call it - ‘excessively vocal nocturnal disturbance’. So, any couples reading this might want to pull their headboard a little further away from the wall when they go to bed tonight, just to keep the relationship with their neighbours all sweet and friendly.