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Noise and other nuisances

Noise (domestic and non-domestic), smell, dust, smoke and other emissions from premises can cause a legal nuisance, if they materially affect the use or enjoyment of other premises

A guide to approaching your neighbour about noise

Are you being disturbed by noise from your neighbour? Barking dogs, DIY, slamming doors, loud TV, washing machine on at unsocial hours? Things like this can impact on our lives and spoil the enjoyment of our homes. What if your neighbour is causing you a problem like this? The Local Authority will investigate and can take action for unreasonable and excessive noise, but sometimes a friendly approach to your neighbour might be all that's needed. So before you involve the council, here's some tips on making contact with your neighbour.

The most important thing to remember is to be polite and reasonable with your neighbour. This can be hard, especially if you've been kept awake or the noise is driving you mad. But it's a shame to fall out with neighbours and things can get out of hand, so take a deep breath and try to keep it friendly.

There's a chance your neighbour may not even be aware that there's a problem. This is especially the case if the problem happens when they're not at home, say if their dog barks while they're at work, or their children turn up the stereo when alone in the house. Your neighbour could feel extremely guilty about their noise and genuinely not have realised what they were doing has been causing you disturbance.

So, if you would prefer to talk to them face to face, it helps to plan what you need to say first. Take some written notes and examples of their noise nuisances with you when you call on your neighbour so you don't forget what you want to say. You might be a bit nervous about approaching them, especially if they are unknown to you, are new to the neighbourhood, or you've had little prior contact with them, so prepare and be as confident as you can.

If you prefer to make contact in writing, there's some suggested wording for a letter at the end of this guide.

Try to avoid going round to your neighbour to complain about the noise when it's actually happening. Chances are if someone has been drinking or partying heavily, they're not going to want to talk to you. You may be seen by your neighbour as simply trying to stop their enjoyment, when in reality that certainly isn't the case. So go around when you know they are home, when it's quiet and always plan your approach beforehand.

Sometimes it's helpful to suggest compromises, that always goes down well with neighbours. This could be things like agreeing times for music practice, or giving notice for parties. Remember, there are times when you might want to make noise yourself so a bit of 'live and let live' goes a long way.

The best advice in these situations is to approach your neighbour as you yourself would like to be approached if they had a complaint about your noise.

And if it works - thank them!

Here's some suggested wording to help you explain clearly to your neighbour what the problem is. Remember, it's a good idea to keep a copy of any letter you send.

 

Your Name and Address

Today's Date

Neighbour's Name and Address

 

Dear Neighbour [or their name]

This is a friendly note to make you aware that I am being disturbed by noise from your property [state address]. The noise that disturbs me/us/my family is [describe noise that affects you]. You may not realise it, but the noise is affecting the enjoyment of my/our home.  Please do not take this personally. I just wanted to let you know how your noise is affecting me/us and politely request that you [detail what you would like them to do i.e. turn the music down].

Please don't hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss this [delete this option if not appropriate].

Thank you in anticipation of your help in this matter.

Yours

 

But if it doesn't work? Then contact the Environmental Protection Team at Torridge District Council for advice or to start a formal noise investigation. While we don't insist that you contact your neighbour before we take on an investigation, in a lot of cases it's the quickest way to resolve the problem and keep the peace!

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 requires Councils to take reasonable steps to investigate and, if appropriate, take formal action in the event of justified complaints of statutory nuisance.  The Environmental Protection Team investigates Statutory Nuisance complaints within Torridge.

Typical complaints relate to neighbour noise (including barking dogs), factory noise, dust from building and demolition activity, smoke from burning waste and cooking smells from restaurants  - see download leaflets

Please note the Council does not operate a noise call-out service.  Out-of-hours monitoring visits are undertaken by prior arrangement

Our approach to nuisance complaints is designed to promote consideration and good relations between neighbours.  We encourage complainants to initially discuss problems with neighbours in the hope that a solution can be found without official interference.  In many cases the business or householder may not be aware of the disturbance being caused, so an informal and friendly approach by those affected may be the best way to achieve a lasting solution to the problem.  Involving the Council without such an approach can sometimes make matters worse!

The organisation Northern Devon Community Mediation also provides an independent service to try to resolve neighbour disputes.  They can be contacted on 0845 201 2556 (local call rate) or at info@ndcmediation.org  Their website is available at www.ndcmediation.org

The Environmental Protection Team recognises that not all nuisance problems can be dealt with by an informal approach and there are occasions when official intervention is the only way to abate a noise or other statutory nuisance.  More information on the way the Environmental Protection Team deal with nuisance complaints is provided in the download leaflets.

SUMMARY OF NUISANCE COMPLAINT SERVICE

  1. The complainant will be asked to complete our online complaint form here or one can be sent in the post
  2. The complainant will normally be asked to keep a 'diary' of noise events and we provide diary forms to assist
  3. The Council can only take formal action if the nuisance complained of can be witnessed, either during a visit to the complainant's home or, under certain circumstances, by recording equipment left there.  If the nuisance regularly happens during the normal working day, the complainant may be asked to contact the nominated case officer so that, if available, they can visit immediately
  4. When the nuisance occurs only or mainly outside normal office hours, then visits can be made by prior arrangements at times when it is most likely that the nuisance can be witnessed.  The Council does not operate an out-of-hours 'call out' service
  5. The law requires the Council to take such steps "as are reasonably practicable" to investigate nuisance complaints.  As resources for investigation are limited, Torridge District Council's policy is that THREE ASSESSMENT VISITS are normally the maximum which can be expected and that this number represents a proper discharge of its duties in respect of statutory nuisance investigations
  6. If within the three visits evidence of a problem that may amount to a statutory nuisance is obtained, further action will be taken by the case officer on the complainant's behalf.  The type of action will depend upon the circumstances, but may include a written warning or the service of an Abatement Notice on those responsible for the problem.  Failure to comply with an Abatement Notice is an offence which may result in a fine of up to £5,000 for domestic premises and £20,000 for commercial premises
  7. In cases where:
  • no nuisance has occurred during any of the three visits, or
  • a problem has been witnessed, but, in the opinion of the Council officer, it does not amount to a statutory nuisance, the investigation will normally be discontinued and the complainant informed accordingly.

INFORMING THE COUNCIL

If you wish to make a complaint about a noise or other problem that you believe may be a statutory nuisance, please ensure you read the relevant downloadable leaflet/s.  After having read the leaflet/s you can either complete the  online complaint form here or contact the Environmental Protection Team. We will then send you a complaint pack, which includes a complaint form to be completed and returned to the office.

On receipt of a completed complaint form, an officer of the Council will normally contact the occupier of the premises complained of to make them aware that a problem may exist (although not confirmed) and giving them the opportunity to take action if necessary.  In urgent cases, an investigation may be commenced prior to receipt of the completed complaint form.

The identity of the complainant will not be disclosed without prior agreement.  However, should formal enforcement action be required, you may be called as a witness.

BURGLAR ALARMS

Noise from Audible Intruder Alarm

In certain situations the local authority can take steps to silence alarms (if necessary entering premises by force), where the alarm has been sounding continuously for more than twenty minutes, or intermittently for more than one hour, and this likely to give persons living or working in the vicinity of the premises reasonable cause for annoyance. In these circumstances the local authority may also invoice the owner of the premises for all reasonable expenses incurred. Where necessary further action could be taken under statutory nuisance procedures to prevent any recurrence. This would involve the service of an abatement notice and failure to comply with this could be liable to a fine of up to £5000.

The Code of Practice on Audible Intruder Alarms 1982 requires:

  1. That audible intruder alarms are fitted and installed to comply in full with BS4737.
  2. That audible intruder alarms are maintained and operated in accordance with BS4737 so as to prevent false alarms.
  3. That where a cut-off device which will operate within 20 minutes is not fitted, the alarm owner informs both this Department and the Police of at least 2 keyholders who will respond within 20 minutes to disable the alarm.

KEYHOLDERS

For many years, Devon & Cornwall Police has provided a benefit to businesses and individual residents by recording details of their keyholders. This enables a responsible person to be called out if an incident occurs at your property if you are unavailable, for example if you are on holiday.  Follow this link for more information:  https://www.devon-cornwall.police.uk/keyholder

TAKING ACTION YOURSELF

Should there be insufficient evidence of statutory nuisance for the Council to act, you might consider taking legal action yourself.  This can be done under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

This can be relatively straightforward and need not cost much.  You do not need to employ a solicitor, but it is advisable to obtain some legal advice before embarking on this course of action.

If you can convince the Court that your complaint is justified, the Court may require the offender to abate the nuisance.

However, should you fail to prove your case you may have to pay some of the defendant's costs.

Please see the download to the right for information on taking your own action.