What should I do about noisy neighbours?
A Guide on how to deal with noisy neighbours and how to make a noise complaint.
If you are caught in a situation where you feel your neighbours are making excessive noise, then what should you do about it?
It might be music, DIY at all hours of the day and night, or it might be a barking dog left behind during the day. In any event, living with a real noise nuisance can be deeply distressing and can lead to terrible disputes with those neighbours that can consume years and huge amounts of money.
It could be that your neighbour is a factory, then the process is pretty much the same and might be easier to deal with as companies are often more willing to keep the peace with their neighbours.
The good news is, there is a way in which such disputes can be resolved and in the case where a neighbour is being highly unreasonable, they will be issued an abatement order (order to stop the noise) and if they break that, then they can be fined up to £5,000, or £20,000 in the case of a business.
The big myth!
Firstly, we should dispel a myth about neighbour noise, so that you know what doesn’t work. In UK law, there are no set sound levels that constitute a nuisance, so measurement is not the answer and we need to find another way to navigate this issue. It is also true that, should it come to taking noise readings, this needs to be done by a noise specialist as local authorities and courts do not normally accept technical data from private residents.
Is it worth it?
Before you take any action at all, you should think long and hard about what you want and whether it’s worth it – let me explain – firstly, if you own your property and you make an official complaint, then this has to be disclosed should you decide to sell – clearly a deterrent to any potential purchaser. Next, you should bear in mind that you have to continue living next to your neighbours during and after any dispute, so if you are going to proceed, then you might try to keep things as amicable as possible. Finally, if things get heated, then such disputes can take years to resolve and can end up costing a huge amount of money.
What’s the first steps?
The very first thing you should do if at all possible, is talk to your neighbour in a calm, rational way to see if there is some way you can resolve the issue directly. Further to that, you can contact your neighbour’s landlord or housing association and discuss the issue with them. You can even engage a private mediation service to see if you can find a solution before making an official complaint. Your council will even help you find a mediator, usually.
Making a complaint
Should you decide to make a complaint, your first, second and third port of call is your local Environmental Health Department within your local council. There will be someone assigned to dealing with noise complaints as this is a requirement of the law. This is a slow process and requires patience, so bear with it! The reason for this is that resources in local councils are understandably stretched, so the noise officer will need to be sure that your complaint is legitimate and worthy of investigation. They will ask you to log all the disturbances, make a diary, record the noise if you have the ability to do so (your phone or a video camera will do this) and to come back to them at some point in the future with all this information. The more diligently and completely you do this, the more you will be taken seriously.
What if you are the one being complained against?
If your neighbour approaches you with a complaint about noise, then try to not take it personally or act defensively. There may be a good reason when they feel that way and it might be a simple thing to resolve the issue there and then. This is always the very best outcome for neighbour disputes.
Remember, that in English law, ‘An Englishman’s home is not his Castle!” What this means is that you do not have the right to do as you please in your own home if that interferes with someone else’s enjoyment of their home!
Exception to the rule
If your neighbours have a party that goes on well into the night, start using industrial equipment late in the evening then you will normally be able to get the police to respond and intervene to stop the nuisance, in which case, call 101. If there are signs of crime in progress, domestic violence, racial abuse or hate crime behind the noise, then dial 999! Other than for a crime being committed, this will be a temporary intervention and will not necessarily set any ongoing restrictions in place, other than a warning not to do it again!
What happens next?
Once your environmental pollution office is happy there is a legitimate complaint, then they will usually try to mediate between the two parties and they’re often very good at it. Of course, it is possible they will decide that there is no legitimate complaint, in which case, your options will be limited, and it will be very difficult and costly to move forward to a private legal action.
If you believe the council have not responded appropriately to your complaint, then you can go to the local government and social care ombudsman to complain.
If mediation works, it can be the best expected outcome at this point. If it doesn’t then the council will probably take action against the nuisance maker by issuing a noise abatement order, which is a legal notice to stop making the noise. Should the neighbour continue to break the order, then they can be fined up to £5,000. If it is a factory or business breaking the order, then the fine can be up to £20,000!
Would I have to go to court?
The only time the courts become involved is if the nuisance maker tries to defend the order or if there is ambiguity whether the complaint is genuine, and a judge is needed to decide the matter. You may be asked to appear as the complainant and if you want your own legal representation, then you would have to pay for a solicitor at this point.
Where do technical experts come in?
Technical noise experts are only usually drafted in where a case is disputed. These experts would normally be engaged by a business defending a complaint. The expert on the side of the complainant would normally be the environmental health officer, although sometimes, they do hire independent consultants too.
You should never be required to hire a noise expert if you are the one making the complaint!
What about afterwards?
Hopefully a successfully resolved complaint will mean that everyone can live alongside each other in harmony from that point forward. What seems to happen in reality, is that often one party will move to a new house. This may well be the person who made the complaint!
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