In terms of how to approach and deal with the problem of noisy neighbours, the law is far from straightforward. Property disputes specialist, Mike Hansom, explains your options. To contact Mike, you can email him, or call him on 01225 462871.
A consequence of lockdown in the UK has been a surge in inquiries to law firms concerning noisy neighbours. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Lockdown has created an almost perfect storm where near-constant proximity has collided with untypical routines and behaviour. Below, for those in England and Wales, I have set out practical steps, tips on securing evidence, as well as legal routes and remedies.
Try to keep calm
Keeping your composure may be extremely difficult, particularly if the disturbance is late at night, but as with any issue involving a neighbour, approaching the situation calmly and cautiously is always best. It’s surprisingly easy for disputes to escalate, with reason and common sense fast evaporating. Remember, if you own your home, disputes with neighbours must be disclosed when you come to sell – a sure-fire deterrent to potential purchasers – so acting on impulse may actually end up hurting you financially.
Discuss the issue with your neighbour, broaching the matter more in sorrow than in anger. Strange though it may seem from your perspective, they may be unaware that others are being disturbed, or perhaps the reason for the noise is beyond their control.
Depending on the situation, instead of a doorstep encounter, you may find it easier to post a polite letter through their door. If so, keep a copy, as well as a note of the date and time it was delivered. This will be very useful in the event that you have to take the matter further.
If others are being disturbed, you might suggest to them that you speak or write to the neighbour as a group, so it’s clear that it’s not just you who has an issue with their behaviour.
Evidence is key to tackling a persistently noisy neighbour. Keep a written record of each incident, detailing the date, the time it commenced, its duration, the nature of the noise and any other relevant information concerning the circumstances.
It can be useful to record the noise on your mobile phone . While not conclusive evidence of the volume of the noise or where it was recorded, this can nevertheless provide a flavour of the problem. However, care should be taken to avoid a breach of your neighbour’s privacy, for example by pointing CCTV cameras at their property in a way that could be intrusive.
In addition to retaining copies of letters and any other written communications (including emails), keep a detailed note of any verbal conversation. Make this as soon as reasonably practicable following the conversation and remember to record not just the date and time of the conversation, but also when the note was made.
What should you do next?
If an informal approach fails to resolve the problem, there are further steps you can take.
Is your neighbour a tenant?
If your noisy neighbour is a tenant, in most cases the first step will be to write to their landlord to complain. The threat of eviction for antisocial behaviour may be all that is required to resolve the problem. If the landlord is a local authority or a housing association, this should be straightforward.
However, identifying and persuading a private landlord to act can sometimes be more difficult. A landlord is not automatically liable to you for noise nuisance caused by their tenant. To succeed against the landlord it is usually necessary to demonstrate they authorised the nuisance.
Should you call the police?
It’s a common misconception that noise nuisance is a matter for the police. As a civil rather than a criminal matter, it usually is not, unless the nuisance creates a breach of the peace. Accordingly, most often the police will decline to get involved at all.
Contact your local authority
Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, noise can be a “statutory nuisance” if it’s “emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance”. Local authorities are under a duty to investigate issues that might be statutory nuisances.
If, following investigation, the local authority agrees that your neighbour is causing, has caused, or will cause a statutory noise nuisance, they must serve them with a noise abatement notice. This informs them what they must do to stop the nuisance and of the legal consequences if they do not. If a person breaks the terms of a noise abatement notice concerning noise from their home, they commit a criminal offence and can be fined up to £5,000. If the noise comes from a business, the fine is up to £20,000.
Taking your noisy neighbour to court
If all else fails, you can take legal action yourself. In England and Wales, there are two routes – the Magistrates’ Court or the Civil Courts (usually the County Court).
If your local authority takes too long to investigate, or decides not to take enforcement action, you can bring your own action in the Magistrates’ Court, under section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The procedure is begun by service of an abatement notice which gives your neighbour three days to abate the nuisance. If the magistrates are persuaded that the matter amounts to a statutory noise nuisance, they will order the neighbour to desist. Breach of the notice carries the same penalties which are outlined above.
In the County Court, you will have to sue your noisy neighbour for causing a private nuisance, defined as “a substantial interference by the owner or occupier of a property with the use and enjoyment of neighbouring premises.” The UK Supreme Court has set out a number of principles for judges to consider when deciding whether a scenario amounts to a private nuisance. If your claim is successful, the County Court can issue an interim and/or a final injunction, requiring your neighbour to stop the nuisance. In addition, the court can award damages to you for loss of enjoyment of your property rights. In some cases, damages are awarded in lieu of an injunction.
Of course, whichever route you take, if you are successful, the court has the discretion to order your neighbour to pay some or all of your legal costs. But that is far from guaranteed, and if your neighbour is impecunious, you may struggle to recover your costs in any event. Also, if you lose the case, you may have to pay some or all of your neighbour’s costs.