Love thy neighbour. Let’s be honest, if Jesus had lived next door to nightmare tenants he may never have come out with those words of wisdom. We’ve all been there – living next door to someone who doesn’t quite share your neighbourly values in some way or other. One of the most common complaints is noise issues, and it’s easy to see why. From booming bass lines to barking dogs that drive you barking mad, if your life is being made a misery by someone in your street, here’s what to do.
Excessive noise is classed as ‘noise under human control and of such a nature as to unreasonably interfere with the peace, comfort, and convenience of any person (other than a person in, or at, the place from which the noise is being emitted)’ – in other words you can’t complain about the music at a party you’re at, but you will have grounds to complain about it if you’re not (and not just because you weren’t invited).
Most local councils state that an acceptable sound level in residential areas is 55dB during the day - 6.00am to 9.00pm - and 45dB during the night - 9.00pm to 6.00am. It might be loud, thumping music, it might be a poor dog chained up in a back garden, it might be non-stop arguments or seven straight days of a power drill going into a wall. Whatever the situation, if it’s affecting your quality of life, follow these steps:
Document the offences – keep a diary for a couple of weeks stating the date, time and type of noise and how it affects you, e.g. ‘1.00am, woken up by dog barking. Lasted 20 minutes. Could not get back to sleep’.
If you think your neighbours are reasonable and might be open to discussion, pay them a visit. Don’t go round when you’re being driven mad, instead wait until you feel calm enough to chat. Interrupting a domestic dispute is never a good idea – you don’t want to be on the receiving end of someone’s bad temper. If you are genuinely worried about someone’s safety, do call the police.
If you’re worried that talking to them face to face isn’t a safe option, write them a letter. Make it polite, state that you’re affected by whatever noise it is, and that it’s hard for you to sleep/work/function because of it. If you can find anyone else who feels the same, you might want to say, ‘It’s not only me whose sleep/work is being disturbed, other neighbours feel the same.’ End with ‘I/we would appreciate it if you could keep the noise down’ and a ‘thank you’ rather than ‘if you don’t shut up I will set a bear on you so help me god.’ Keep a copy for your records to prove that you have tried to resolve the issue calmly.
If the noise persists, or indeed if they are in any way aggressive to you, you’ll need to step it up to mediation. This is when an impartial person who is trained in dealing with difficult discussions between two opposing sides - acts as an unbiased referee. There may be a fee for mediation, but it won’t cost as much as a solicitor.
You can also ask your local council for help if you feel that the disturbance is damaging to your health or a ‘statuary nuisance’. This can include noise, artificial light such as security lights shining into your bedroom, smoke or fumes, rubbish and any form of harassment or threatening behaviour. Again, keep that diary, give them a call and if you can get other neighbours to do the same, you’ll have more chance of action being taken.
If you’re renting, you might actually find it easier to move. The last resort, if the aforementioned doesn’t work, is to seek legal advice, but that’s time-consuming, costly and doesn’t guarantee a ruling in your favour. Most disputes can be resolved without resorting to court action – you might find that your neighbours are mortified that their behaviour is upsetting for you. Unlikely, but it’s possible!
Journalist. Broadcaster. Author.
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