Neighbour Noise Disputes
Once you have made the complaint, the council will then usually ask you to keep a log of noisy events, usually for a period of two weeks. The council may also visit the property to witness the noise, leave monitoring equipment at your premises, or you may be put on their ‘out-of-hours’ call-out list enabling you to request an officer attend your premises outside of normal office hours to witness the alleged nuisance.
If, after witnessing the noise, the council is satisfied that a statutory nuisance exists then they may serve an Abatement Notice requiring the noise to cease or be reduced.
The offender may appeal against the notice (this may suspend the notice until the appeal is resolved). It is an offence not to comply with an Abatement Notice and a fine may be imposed on the offender.
Local Authority Mediation
Many councils also offer a mediation service which is free to residents to provide help and advice in finding solutions to everyday problems with neighbours. During this process, a third, independent party will help you and your neighbour to reach an agreement to resolve the issue.
Breach of Lease
Noise in flats can often be caused by noise transmission by contact noise i.e. via the floor. Flats held on a leasehold basis may have clauses within the lease to require the owner to cover the floors of the flat in a particular way to reduce noise transmission. If the owners have removed carpets, for example, and put down hard flooring, they may be in breach of their lease. As a fellow leaseholder, you would not be able to take action for breach of lease directly but your lease will likely contain a provision that allows you to request the freeholder to take action regarding the breach, generally at your expense.
Noise Nuisance Action
Noise may constitute common law private nuisance. If your right of enjoyment over your land is hindered by the actions (or inaction) of neighbours, you may be able to bring a claim in nuisance against the occupiers of the property. A successful action may result in the abatement of the nuisance, damages, or an injunction.
The Supreme Court laid down a number of useful principles applicable when considering a claim of private nuisance by noise in the case of Coventry and others v Lawrence and another  UKSC 13. These are:
- whether noise constitutes nuisance must be assessed by reference to the character of the locality because what can constitute nuisance in one area may not be nuisance in another;
- the activity creating the noise can be part of the character of the locality but only to the extent that they do not cause nuisance;
- having planning permission to carry out an activity which causes nuisance by noise is not a defence, although the terms and conditions of the planning permission might be relevant in some cases;
- it is not a defence to show that the complainant ‘came to the nuisance’ (moved into a property after the nuisance had started), unless they changed the use of their land/property and as a result the pre-existing activity became a nuisance, but was not before; and
- if the perpetrator can show that the noisy activity complained of has been carried out for 20 years, not necessarily continuously, this can establish a right to commit noise by prescription. This will be a defence to claim of private nuisance by noise.
The normal remedy in a case of nuisance is an injunction to restrain the activity causing nuisance (in addition to damages for the past nuisance), but depending on the circumstances, the court has discretion to award damages in lieu of an injunction. In such cases, the damages will reflect the reduction in value of the complainant’s property resulting from the continuation of the nuisance.
Tackling neighbour noise can be an uncomfortable issue to deal with and each instance will demand a different approach, dependent on existing relationships and the severity of the disturbance, among other factors. Taking legal action or formalising a dispute should be a last resort. Legal action may expose you to a large legal expense bill even if successful and a life-changing bill if you are unsuccessful and ordered to pay your neighbour’s costs. Be slow to legal action or otherwise entering into a dispute. When you sell your property you will be required to declare disputes and this could have a significant adverse effect on the value of your property.
Always keep your safety front of mind, consider the steps above and take legal advice to explore the options open to you, especially if dialogue hasn’t worked.