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Noise Nuisance

Every year the Environmental Protection Team receive over 1000 complaints about noise from all sorts of sources causing a nuisance. Such complaints need never arise if due consideration is shown to neighbours and we all keep a balanced view of how we can expect to live next to our neighbours. This page explains the law and gives some suggestions to help prevent a nuisance being caused in the most common types of complaint.

What Is a Noise Nuisance ?

A noise nuisance is a significant and unreasonable amount of sound from a neighbouring premises that affects you in a significant and unreasonable way. It is much more that simply an annoyance or a noise that is audible.

There are no hard and fast rules about when a noise is a nuisance. The main factors that officers and the courts take into account are

  • The time of day
  • The location
  • The duration of each individual noise event
  • The volume of the noise
  • The character of the noise
  • The frequency with which noisy events occur

It is not necessary for officers to take noise readings to establish if a nuisance exists, although sometimes this can help. On the whole the judgement of an experienced and independent officer is enough to determine if a noise is unreasonable or not.

What if You Are Being Bothered by Noise?

Step 1

First of all tell the source of the problem about it. In three quarters of cases one neighbour does not know that they are causing problems for another.
If you are really annoyed then calm down before approaching your neighbour or writing them a letter. You will be much better able to explain your grievance in a reasonable way and so you are much more likely to get a positive response. Try sending them one of our information leaflets that are designed to provide ideas about solving noise problems. The topics currently covered include:

Step 2

If this doesn't work then contact us and we will try to help using our powers under the Environmental Protection Act. We will initially ask you to keep a diary in which we need you to record dates and times of when you are being bothered by the noise in question. This is crucial information, as it will allow us to establish if the circumstances are sufficiently serious to potentially be a statutory nuisance and will be used as evidence in case formal court proceedings have to be taken later.

We do not accept anonymous complaints. All too often we are seen as a possible weapon after a falling out between neighbours and so we want some confidence that there is substance behind any allegations. Besides this, the service is aimed at helping you solve your problem - unless somebody can stand up and confirm that they are being affected by a noise then the noise cannot in law be causing a nuisance.

When you are filling in the diary remember some important things:

  • Be as specific as you reasonably can. For example if you are bothered by a dog barking try to give reasonable information about what times of day and for how long - don't just write down that the noise is happening 'all day' because this will be shown not to be the case as the investigation progresses and your evidence will be discredited
  • It's OK to backdate information - provided that you remember the facts accurately
  • Give us some idea about how the noise is affecting you. Has it woken you up or stopped you going to sleep? Can you clearly hear it over your TV? If you can only hear when your house is in total quiet, or you have to strain to hear it then it's probably not a nuisance
  • If other neighbours are bothered by the problem then encourage them to fill in diary sheets as well. It helps to know that you are supporting each other as well as providing corroborating evidence
  • Keep the diary for about 3 weeks. This time isn't set in stone and you should send us the information back when you feel you have collected enough to give us a good idea about the extent of the problem - it may take from a week to a couple of months

In extreme cases we do short-circuit this part of the procedure, for example if it appears that the noise is continuous or causing widespread disturbance which will not stop without quick intervention.

Step 3

Once we've received your diary sheets we make a decision about whether there is enough evidence to proceed. We will have written to the source of the noise following your initial complaint. We will now write to or visit the source of the noise again seeking an informal solution of the problem and using your information as the main evidence.

If this doesn't work then we must look at working with you to gather evidence to demonstrate to a court that a nuisance is occurring. This usually means that one of our officers will visit you when the noise is occurring, or is likely to be occurring based on your diary notes, or we will supply you with a special tape recorder that you can use to record the noise. We will also accept evidence from other independent professionals such as Police Officers or Housing Officers who may have witnessed noise when carrying out their own duties.

Step 4

Where we can prove a nuisance is occurring we will serve a Noise Abatement Notice, subject to our Enforcement Policy. The notice tells the source of the noise what they have to do to stop causing a nuisance and by when.

If the noise persists after a Noise Abatement Notice has been served then we will continue working with you to prove that the requirements of the notice are not being met. We may then prosecute the cause of the noise and potentially seize any noise making equipment such as stereos and speakers.

This can all take a long time and you must be prepared for the slog. It's also the reason why we do all we can to sort complaints out informally.

Fact Sheet on Investigating Statutory Nuisance Including Noise (PDF Document, 0.11 Mb)

For further information about statutory nuisances or to make a complaint contact us on 01509 634636 or email us at env.health@charnwood.gov.uk

For more detailed information about specific types of noise nuisance go to our pages dedicated to construction site noise and barking dogs

Does All This Work?

In reality we only take legal action in terms of serving an Abatement Notice in about 5% of cases. The vast majority of investigations conclude that the noise is simply not bad enough to stand up as a criminal action.

Needless to say people often disagree with our opinions as to whether a nuisance exists - we are after all dealing with conflicts between neighbours who themselves do not agree. In either case the aggrieved party can take further action.

Where we have served an Abatement Notice and the recipient disagrees that they are causing a nuisance, then they may appeal to the Magistrates Court.

Alternatively where we decide that a nuisance does not exist, then the complainant can apply themselves to a Magistrates Court for a Noise Abatement Order. We can give further advise on this. Where a complainant is not happy that we have adequately investigated the complaint they may either complain via the Councils own Corporate Complaints procedure or, following this, to the Local Authority Ombudsman.

For such a difficult area of law to enforce we take some satisfaction that about 60% of people who use our service tell us that we have either improved or solved their complaints.

Fixed Penalty Notices

Since the Anti-Social Behaviour Act came into force in mid 2004 all Councils have the power to issue Warning Notices followed, if necessary, by Fixed Penalty fines for noise offences. These can apply when noise coming from one domestic property exceed certain noise levels in a neighbouring property in the nighttime hours of 23.00 and 07.00.

Charnwood does not currently operate an out of hours noise enforcement service and so we will not be issuing any of these notices for the foreseeable future. There is not sufficient demand for this service to make it economic to run this sort of service however we will keep the situation under review. We will continue to use the statutory nuisance enforcement powers.

If you wish to comment on this you can contact us at env.health@charnwood.gov.uk

Return to the Environmental Protection Homepage

Advice if You Are the Subject of a Complaint

If you find that you are the subject of a complaint to the Council, then there's a good chance that you'll have something to say about it and a need to find out what your rights are.

Please see our "General Advice" section for our list of frequently asked questions which crop up most commonly during investigations

Last updated: Thu 3rd April, 2014 @ 11:43

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