Noise and nuisance issues
Whether you are a landlord letting out a property or a tenant renting a property, issues may arise in relation to noise nuisance. Noise may be caused by tenants, their visitors or neighbours. Local authorities receive countless complaints each year regarding noise and nuisance on premises. However, landlords, tenants and the local authority are able to take action against such problems.
It is a criminal offence for people to cause noise and nuisance which results in people being unable to relax and enjoy their home and community life.
Tenancy agreements set out the terms of the tenancy, which would include tenants agreeing not to make unnecessary noise or nuisance that may result in stress being caused to neighbouring residents.
Statutory nuisance could be caused by:
- A high volume of noise, perhaps through parties, music, radios etc.
- Loud sounds emitted from equipment, motor vehicles or machinery.
- Rubbish being dumped, which is attracting vermin and pests.
- Toxic fumes being released from a property such as gas, smoke or other odours e.g. bonfire nuisance.
- Noisy dogs or other types of pets.
- Noise and nuisance caused by an animal being kept poorly, e.g. unclean environment or overcrowded conditions.
By law, a landlord is expected to keep a property in good working order so that issues caused by a property being in bad condition, such as structural and exterior problems, are avoided. For more information, see the page on tenants' and landlords' repairing obligations.
A tenant is required to maintain the property in which they are living and not allow the property to become neglected or in poor condition.
Noise is the most common type of problem landlords and occupiers experience. Often tenants are subjected to unreasonable and excessive noise within their neighbourhoods.
To avoid noise and nuisance to neighbours and the local community it is recommended that tenants:
- Monitor the level of sound being emitted from radios, televisions and stereos at all times of the day.
- Place music systems and televisions on rubber mats or carpet to help absorb sound.
- Avoid placing sound emitting appliances next to shared walls.
- Consider the time of day chosen to carry out housework, DIY and gardening.
- Limit noise at inconvenient hours.
- Look after any pets properly and clean up after them.
- Avoid leaving dogs barking and disturbing the neighbours.
- Inform neighbours if they are to carry out disruptive DIY work such as drilling, hammering etc.
- Let neighbours know if they intend to have a party or bonfire.
- If going out or returning home late at night take extra care not to disturb neighbours through load voices and slamming of car doors.
- Make sure their children are playing in a way that is considerate to neighbours and not causing a disturbance.
Causes of Noise
There are a range of noises that can be a nuisance to tenants and landlords. It is important that the correct procedures are followed for dealing with noise that may be considered a statutory nuisance.
Air Conditioning Units
Air conditioning units, especially in residential properties, can cause disturbance to neighbours and the local community. The increasing number of air conditioning systems being installed in offices, leisure complexes and retail centres is contributing to a higher level of environmental noise. When such systems are faulty (perhaps due to a worn motor or damaged fan), the noise emitted can often be louder than usual.
If the local authorities require that planning permission be obtained before an air conditioning unit is installed and no application is submitted, then action can be taken. If a unit is installed without consent from the local authority, the planning directorate is able to remove the unit or request that an application for planning permission be submitted.
The Environmental Health Department can also take steps to reduce any noise from air conditioning units that are considered a statutory nuisance. The local authority will consider the times when the unit is in use and the level of noise before deciding whether the unit is a statutory nuisance. In many cases, the reason for an air conditioning unit emitting high levels of noise is a lack of maintenance and the unit needing repair work. If an environmental health officer finds evidence showing that a unit is causing a statutory nuisance then they can require the owner to carry out the necessary repair work to rectify the problem.
Aeroplanes and helicopters can cause considerable disturbance to many people, in particular those living near airports or helipads. However, there are procedures in place to limit noise caused by aircraft, which include night-time flight restrictions to prevent sleep disturbance. There are also various systems in place to restrict the number of flights of aircraft with high noise levels.
Local authorities may not have the power to control the air traffic noise, as most airports are accountable to the Civil Airports Authority (CAA). However, local authorities can work with the general public to voice their concerns to the central government. Local councils have also been known to provide financial support to assist residents in taking cases to court in order to gain increased restrictions and limit the noise caused by aircraft.
Residents living near a railway station or railway track can be affected by considerable amounts of noise. All railway operators are required to run efficient rail transport services and maintain trains and tracks.
Noise and vibration can be limited by regular maintenance of trains, stations and tracks. If this fails to take place then action can be taken under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. However, action against noise and nuisance caused by railways is likely to fail unless there is proof of a lack of maintenance that has resulted in unnecessary noise and vibrations.
Construction noise can be very disruptive for tenants. If you are experiencing unreasonable amounts of noise then the first step is to report the noise to your local authority’s Environmental Protection Team. The environment department is likely to ask you to keep a diary of the times, duration and description of the noise which is taking place, as there are strict guidelines on when construction work can be carried out. If an officer visits the property, they may take readings of the level of noise and if it is deemed a statutory nuisance, the person responsible may be asked to reduce their noise level.
There are three main types of construction noise: DIY, the development of an existing property by builders, and the construction of an entirely new building. If the noise is taking place at the times specified by the council then the builders are following the correct procedures.
DIY noise can be very disturbing for neighbouring residents as often the construction work occurs when neighbours are trying to enjoy the peace and quiet of their home or garden.
The construction of a new property or building can cause significant disruption to people living within the area. However, usually construction sites for new buildings are controlled and the correct procedures are followed.
The refurbishment or re-development of an existing building, especially if next to another property can cause significant noise nuisance. If the neighbouring residents are home during the day, they may be subject to noise and disruption, but the building work is allowed to take place as long as the correct time guidelines are observed. In these circumstances, builders and contractors need to ensure they minimise noise caused by the development work.
The Control of Pollution Act 1974, (section 60) has guidelines as to how construction work should be carried out.
Builders, contractors and those carrying out construction work can minimise disruption and noise levels by ensuring that:
- Quiet machinery and equipment is used e.g. electric hoists and cement mixers.
- Construction equipment is well maintained.
- Generators and compressors are always fitted with acoustic covers. Machinery is always switched off when not in use, rather than being left to cause unnecessary noise and in some cases environmental pollution.
- Noisy equipment is sited away from residential properties whenever possible.
- If the site is near residential areas or local amenities then acoustic barriers are used to shield noise sources. Sound barriers can be purpose-built or may be constructed from materials available such as mounds of earth or bricks.
- Contractors are aware of the noise regulations and receive sufficient training so they are aware of how to minimise noise
Road works can be noisy and disruptive especially if near a residential area. However, they are essential to maintain the roads, water, gas and electricity supply as well as drainage systems. Road works will often take place during normal working hours.
Sometimes road works take place in the evening or at weekends to limit the disruption caused to the flow of traffic. At these times, they can often cause more noise disturbance as the environmental noise level is lower at these times of day. The Environmental Health Department is usually able to provide information of what work is taking place and the time scale.
If road works are being done at unsuitable times for no particular reason then the Director of Highways has the ability to take action.
Alarms can cause high levels of noise disturbance to residents, especially if they are not maintained properly and become faulty. There are an increasing number of homes with intruder alarms as well as vehicles fitted with security alarms.
All alarms should be properly maintained by a professional, recognised company. Intruder alarms should comply with the British Standard 4737 and also have an automatic twenty minute cut out time.
The local authorities are able to deal with intruder alarms causing disturbance within a residential area.
The local Environmental and Health Department can be contacted if an intruder alarm is causing disturbance. After a complaint has been made then the officer concerned will decide how the alarm can be turn off. If necessary, a magistrate’s warrant may be obtained so access to the property can be gained to silence the alarm. However, if the alarm is causing disturbance outside office hours then the local authority may have problems gaining a warrant to enter a property.
Once the alarm has been silenced by the Environmental Health Department then the person who is responsible for the alarm will be notified and required to pay the charges incurred.
If a vehicle alarm is causing noise and nuisance then the local authority’s Environmental Health Department should be contacted to report the problem. When putting forward a complaint it is vital that the vehicle registration number or the vehicle’s resident parking permit number is obtained in order for the owner to be contacted. The local authority will contact the owner of the vehicle concerned and inform them of the problem.
In some cases, the owner may not be contactable and in these circumstances, the officer involved may contact an alarm engineer to de-activate the vehicle’s alarm. However, if the vehicle is parked on private land then a warrant from a magistrate is required in order to gain access to the vehicle. If the problem is reported outside usual office hours, the officer may have difficulty gaining a warrant of entry.
Odours and Fumes
Smells and fumes are a common cause of complaints and if a "statutory nuisance" has occurred then the local authority can deal with this in the same way as noise nuisance.
Smell can be eliminated from premises by taking the following steps:
- Regularly putting waste out for refuse collection.
- Ensuring suitable bins with well fitting lids are used.
- Cleaning refuse areas thoroughly with disinfectant.
- Using quality bin liners to prevent spills and leakages.
Complaints regarding smells are usually higher in summer when more heat is generated and windows are left open, so extra care needs to be taken at this time of year.
Bonfires can cause considerable nuisance and in some cases noise. They produce harmful fumes including carbon dioxide (which contributes to the greenhouse effect) as well as carbon monoxide, which is a poisonous gas. The smoke released from bonfires is carcinogenic and the particles in the smoke are linked to cancer.
If you are considering having a bonfire, the following steps should be taken to minimise nuisance caused.
- Check the weather forecast and consider the weather before starting a bonfire – it is best to have a bonfire on a windy day so the smoke can be dispersed quickly.
- Be aware of the wind direction – if the smoke is likely to be blown in the direction of the neighbour’s home, wait for a more suitable day.
- Consider the time of day you choose to have a bonfire. Check if it is going to cause nuisance to neighbours, for example, are they having a garden party or painting an exterior building?
- Avoid having a bonfire if it is a foggy or still day.
- Let neighbours know beforehand so they can bring in washing or other items that could be damaged.
- Never start a bonfire with paraffin or petrol.
- Choose a place to start the fire that is as far away as possible from nearby buildings and trees.
- Avoid burning damp garden waste, only burn dry twigs, prunings, dead shrubs or branches.
- Avoid burning large amounts of garden waste, instead have a hot flame and continually feed the fire.
- Always have a supply of water nearby, in case the fire needs to be put out.
If neighbours feel that a bonfire is causing nuisance and is becoming a frequent occurrence then they can choose to contact the local council and make a formal complaint. However, before making a formal complaint it is advisable to take the first steps and approach the person responsible.
The local authorities have the power to deal with smoke caused by bonfires under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The local authority can issue an abatement notice if they feel the bonfires are a statutory nuisance to neighbouring residents. The person receiving the notice must comply with the terms of the notice and if breached then they can face prosecution.
Noisy dogs are a common reason for many complaints. Barking is classified as natural behaviour for dogs, but this does not mean that a tenant has to tolerate excessive barking, whining or howling. If a tenant is being disturbed and unable to live peacefully in their home, then action can be taken.
The first step is to speak to the owner of the dog and explain your concerns and position. If after this the neighbour has not controlled the dog properly then the local authority’s dog warden service should be contacted. In some cases if the animal’s welfare becomes a concern then the RSPCA should be informed.
Noise from parties
Noise from parties can be a particular problem for residents, especially when they continue late into the night and loud music is played. The Environmental Protection Act does not contain any clauses that state when music cannot be played or what hours are considered night-time. However, in tenancy agreements there is often information as to when music can and cannot be played. Most problems with loud music occur in the late evening and at night, due to the background noise levels being far lower.
Often residents argue that parties are a one-off celebration and they have a right to play loud music and to make what others consider unnecessary noise. When having a party one should aim to minimise disturbance that may be caused to neighbours by keeping windows closed and containing the party to the house rather than garden.
If someone is experiencing unreasonable noise from frequent parties they can contact the Noise and Nuisance team or the Environmental Protection Team of their local council. The complaint is likely to result in the local authority requesting that the person responsible reduces the noise caused to other residents.
Whether it is the tenant or the tenant’s visitors, the law gives the landlord the right to take action against excessive or unreasonable noise or nuisance. The terms of the tenancy allow the landlord to deal with this problem by applying for possession of the property through the courts.
The tenant is also able to deal with noise issues from neighbours by following certain steps. Firstly, they should try to discuss the problem by contacting the person responsible, and then contact the local authority, and finally in some cases it may be necessary to involve the magistrates’ court.
Taking Action - First Steps
If the noise pollution is being caused by a neighbour, business or member of the public then the first step is to approach them and raise the problem. They may be using a piece of equipment or machinery as part of business or domestic work and be unaware of the effect on neighbouring residents. It is essential to approach the person responsible for the noise as soon as possible and before the problem becomes out of control. The person concerned may be unaware of the disruption and disturbance they are causing you. It is best to deal with the problem in a light hearted friendly way, to avoid the possibility of having to take further action. When speaking to a neighbour about noise or nuisance, always remain calm and polite and aim to discuss the problems in a relaxed manner.
In some circumstances, it may not be appropriate to approach the person responsible for the noise. They may be aggressive or intimidating, especially if a group of people are present and alcohol has being consumed. In such instances, it is important to put you and your family’s safety first before the noise you may be experiencing. It may be a good idea to find out whether the neighbours are renting the property; if this is the case it is advisable to contact the landlord, as when entering into a tenancy agreement, the tenants would have agreed not to cause noise or nuisance to neighbours.
If you decide that the person causing the noise or nuisance is unapproachable then it would be best to use a mediator or ‘go-between’. A mediator will listen to both sides of the case and try to settle the problems.
If after having used a mediator and spoken to the person concerned, the noise continues and has become unreasonable, then more formal action may be necessary. Formal action may involve talking to your local authority and in some cases taking your case to the magistrates’ court.
The first step in the formal action procedure is to report the problem to the local council. The complaint should be put forward to the Environmental Health Department, raising the concerns you have as the tenant. All local authorities are obliged to take action when receiving a complaint and conduct the required investigations. The complaint may be made in relation to noise coming from premises, land, machinery, equipment or vehicles within the residential area.
The Environmental Protection Act (1990) makes it compulsory that any noise that is believed to be a statutory nuisance is dealt with accordingly. The Act requires that for an investigation to take place, the noise must be caused by the neighbour’s unreasonable actions. If the noise is a result of poor sound insulation then the council may be unable to take action against the noise-maker.
The Noise Act (1996) also enables the local authority to deal with excessive noise and anti-social behaviour. This legislation makes it possible for the council to remove equipment that is causing continuous noise or nuisance after being issued with a warrant from the magistrates’ court. Fines for statutory noise that is affecting neighbouring residents can also be imposed.
After a formal complaint has been put forward to the local authority, then an Environmental Health Officer would be sent to the property to investigate the problem and how best to deal with it. They may measure the level of noise as part of their investigation. However, there is no defined level at which noise is considered a "statutory nuisance".
A local authority does not have to issue an abatement notice immediately after deciding that the noise is a statutory nuisance. They are entitled to a period of seven days to speak to the neighbour and try to resolve the problem, before issuing a notice of abatement. If after seven days of attempting to deal with the problem nothing has been resolved and the noise continues, then the local authority is obliged to issue an abatement notice.
The abatement notice may mean that the person must stop the noise completely, or limit it to certain periods or times during the day. The person receiving the abatement notice has the right to appeal against it within twenty days of it being issued.
If the person does not comply with the notice issued then the police and courts can ensure they are fined accordingly. The person can be charged a £5,000 fine. If the noise or nuisance is due to business reasons then higher fines can be charged, in some cases up to £20,000.
The local authority and police may issue an Anti-Social Behaviour Order if the noise is being caused as a result of the person’s aggressive or violent behaviour. However, with regard to noise and nuisance this would not be the normal course of action taken, unless serious anti-social behaviour was resulting in a statutory nuisance.
For the local authority to take action against the person responsible for the noise or nuisance, the officer needs evidence of the statutory nuisance. If the officer does not witness any noise or nuisance whilst at the property they may ask you to make notes on the duration of the noise, the time at which it occurred and the disruption and stress it caused. It is helpful to keep a diary of the noise for approximately three to four weeks. Some local authorities’ websites provide a record form, which you can download and use to keep track of the noise or nuisance. Once you have made a record of the noise the form or diary should be returned to the council in order for them to asses the situation.
In some instances the officer may leave equipment for the noise to be recorded.
Before taking a case to court, a person should take the first steps and speak to the person responsible for making the noise, and if necessary contact their local authority.
If the local authority has failed to take action after you have made a formal complaint, then under section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act (1990) you are able to take court action. If you decide to take action in this way then the local authority must be given three days’ notice of your intent prior to any action being taken.
It is recommended that one contacts the clerk at the magistrates’ court for advice on taking court action. Before the court proceedings take place, you must inform, in writing, the person responsible for making the noise of your intention to take the case to court. The person responsible for making the noise has to receive three days’ notice in writing before any proceedings being.
The magistrates’ court would need to agree that the noise was a statutory nuisance in order for them to take action. When taking the problem to the magistrates’ court it is important that you have information on the times and duration of the noise or nuisance and how it is affecting you.
If your case in the magistrates’ court is successful and the noise is considered a statutory nuisance, then the court is required to issue an abatement order for the noise or nuisance to stop. After this notice has been issued, if it is ignored and the noise continues with no significant reason, then the person responsible can be issued with a fine.
However, if your case is unsuccessful and the noise is not considered a statutory nuisance, you would normally be required to pay your costs as well as those of the person you took to court.
Involving the Police
The police will not normally be able to deal with noise nuisance. However, if the problem is escalating into a violent situation where a person could be injured or hurt they can intervene. If property or vehicles in the area are likely to be damaged as a result of out of control behaviour then the police can be contacted to combat any violence and damage that may be taking place.
Eviction - Noise and Nuisance
If a tenant is causing noise and nuisance to neighbours and the community then the landlord has the right to apply to the courts to evict the tenant. Without a court order, it is a criminal offence to evict a tenant, and landlords who do so are at risk of imprisonment. Evicting a tenant can take time and be a costly procedure, unless your tenant is willing to leave the property.
The Housing Act 1996 has made it easier for tenants causing noise and nuisance to be evicted from a property. In these situations, the landlord may choose to issue a section 8 notice to evict the tenant using Ground 14.
The tenant or someone living with or visiting the tenant is causing or is likely to cause a nuisance to neighbours or visitors to the area, or has been convicted of using the property for immoral or illegal purposes, or has been convicted of an offence in the local area.
For more information, see issuing a section 8 notice to quit.