Noise is normally thought of as unwanted sound. The sound could be unwanted because it is too loud, too intrusive, happening at the wrong time, or because it occurs suddenly or unexpectedly.
Very often people complain about sound because they think it is too loud. The loudness of sound is measured in decibels.
Loudness is not the only thing which can cause a noise to be annoying, we can also be affected by repetitive sounds, or by certain frequencies.
A nuisance can be described as something happening on one premises which is significantly interfering with the enjoyment of another premises. The important point in this simple definition is that the interference has to be significant. We all must realise that living in society we must put up with some inconvenience.
Most nuisances are dealt with under Civil Law. However some, like noise, are defined as Statutory Nuisances and can be dealt with under Criminal Law. Examples of the types of noise nuisance which this procedure covers are as follows:
Amplified music or noise from radio, television, stereo system
Noise from DIY activities at unreasonable times
Shouting, banging and thumping
Noise from vehicle, machinery or equipment in the street (not traffic noise).
One thing to bear in mind is that houses and flats are seldom designed to be totally soundproof so you will be able to hear some noise from your neighbours. Common complaints are:
Noise of this nature can be disturbing and these factors can also be made worse not only because of the poor sound insulation but because of differences in life styles and hours of work.
The law regards this sort of noise as 'ordinary domestic noise' and this means that normally there is nothing that we can do to intervene. The Courts have ruled that action cannot be taken using the statutory nuisance provisions within the Environmental Protection Act 1990 where poor sound insulation is found to be insufficient and as such we are normally powerless to act.
If, however, a loud noise happens a lot, goes on for a long time or interferes with your normal activities, you may be suffering from a noise nuisance. An informal approach to your neighbour would normally be the first step.
First, try talking to the people responsible for the nuisance. Politely explain how it affects you and ask your neighbour to reduce the disturbance. Here are a few tips which may help.
Have a word with your neighbour before you get angry or upset. Don't wait to get 'uptight' about the problem. If you are upset wait until you are in a calmer frame of mind.
Choose a convenient time. Say "I'd like to have a word about a problem I've got, as I think you may be able to help. When would it be convenient for you?" (invite your neighbour round for coffee or tea to discuss it, for instance. He or she will be more inclined to discuss it as your guest).
Think beforehand about what you want to say. Be clear and precise about your view of the problem.
Don't lay blame or accuse your neighbour of antisocial behaviour or bad attitudes.
Never be quick to jump to assumptions about what has happened.
Never shout, use abuse, bad language or threaten retaliation.
Give your neighbour plenty of time to express his or her own views. Be patient, listen carefully, and try to understand what he or she is actually saying - don't assume you already know what he or she thinks.
Be prepared to accept differences in attitudes, ways of life, etc. 'Live and let live', but be firm about those activities that cause inconvenience or harm. Let your neighbour say what he or she thinks, but don't be afraid to make your own views clear as well.
Take the view that together you can sort the problem out and still remain on good terms. Be open to suggestions as to how the problem may be resolved.
Don't assume that the first idea that comes into your head will be the best one - it may suit you but if it is inconvenient to your neighbour it probably won't work.
Bring all the relevant issues into the open from the start. Don't keep the awkward bits hidden, or your neighbour may think that it is less of a problem that it really is.
Be careful not to bring in matters that are not relevant to the immediate problem - like how your neighbour held a noisy house-warming party ten years ago but you didn't like to say anything at the time.
Be reasonable. If your neighbour offers to make concessions or put him or herself out see if you can do the same, but don't rush to an unsatisfactory agreement just because you feel embarrassed about having a conflict. Both of you must feel entirely happy with the result if it is to work.
If this approach doesn't work, then make a note of the fact that you have approached the person and the date and their response. Then put your complaint in writing to your neighbour in polite terms, again requesting a reduction in disturbance.
You should allow at least 2 weeks for your neighbour to consider your request and take action. Copies of any letters should be kept for future reference.
If your informal approach fails, or you feel that you cannot approach your neighbours directly, you may find that the situation is helped by the use of a mediation service.
We are lucky that in Sheffield we have such a service, which is known as MESH, the Sheffield Community Mediation Service. The service is designed to assist neighbours to resolve conflicts, it is free, impartial, independent and confidential, and it has a good track record of success.
The MESH mediators act as go-betweens for the disputing parties and aim to reach a satisfactory outcome, or at least to open a channel of communication that will allow differences to be discussed without conflict.
The law allows formal action to be taken, either by a local authority or by an individual person, to deal with a Statutory Nuisance. However, before deciding that formal action is appropriate, you should ask yourself whether or not you are prepared to appear in court.
Formal action, either taken by yourself or by ourselves on your behalf, will almost certainly result in such an appearance. Also, you should realise that the instigation of formal action will have an affect on relationships with your neighbour.
The courts will only consider something a nuisance if it would be nuisance to a 'reasonable man/woman'. It is a principle of English Law that it does not exist to protect the abnormally sensitive.
So just pause to consider whether what you expect from your neighbour really is reasonable. Complaints about the occasional bonfire are unlikely to impress, such things are all part of living in a community.
We are only able to become involved on a formal basis, and the process may take some time to complete.
When you ask us to get involved with a complaint, the first thing that will happen is that we will discuss the complaint with you. It is likely that we will ask you to provide us with a record of the nuisance about which you are complaining.
Because problems caused by burning can be very varied we also need details of the circumstances leading to the nuisance.
To help you in this exercise we have provided a link below to download a blank log sheet. These should be filled in for a period covering a reasonable number of incidents and then returned either by post or email.
It is also extremely helpful if at least one other person, preferably from another household, also completes a log of nuisance and questionnaire that will then be used to corroborate your evidence. Please feel free to copy the log sheets/questionnaire if you need extras.
When the logs and questionnaire are returned, they will be considered and then we will decide what further action, if any, is appropriate to proceed with the case. Then we will make the necessary arrangements to investigate. This investigation may include:
Visits to your property
Taking formal statements from witnesses
Interviewing the person responsible for the alleged nuisance
If Statutory Nuisance is occurring, serving legal notice on the person responsible
Monitoring whether the notice is being complied with. (This will involve further record keeping by the complainants and the taking of further witness statements.)
If appropriate, prosecution
You will be given the name of the officer dealing with your case, and you will be kept informed of progress throughout the process.
If we feel that we are unable to support your complaint, or if you do not want to use our services, you can take your own legal action.
Taking legal action can be a complicated and expensive process. If we decide to take a case on your behalf, then there will be no costs to yourself, and you will be guided through the process by one of our officers.
However, if you are seriously considering taking legal action yourself, you are strongly advised to consult a solicitor. If you do employ a solicitor make sure that you get an estimate of the likely costs first.
You may decide to take action in either the Civil or Criminal Courts. All action by ourselves is undertaken in the Criminal Courts. Civil proceedings for nuisance are not a matter for us and you should seek separate legal advice if considering a Civil nuisance action.
If you decide you are prepared to take your complaint to the Magistrates Court, you will need to collect evidence in support. You can do this by making notes using the questionnaire and keeping a record on the log sheets.
As mentioned before, your case will be much stronger if you can get other witnesses who are prepared to keep similar records and appear in Court.
If you are employing a solicitor he or she will arrange to get your case heard at court. However, you may make a complaint without using a solicitor by carrying out the following procedure:
First of all, you must give the person about whom you are complaining three days' notice of your intention to make a complaint.
Download a Form A - Intention to Make a Complaint to do this, but keep a copy.
A form you can fill in to advise your neighbour that you intend to make a complaint.
After the 3 days have passed, then complete two copies of the Form B - Complaint Form, take one copy to the Magistrates Court and keep the other copy for your own use.
Download this form:
A form you can fill in to present your complaint to the Magistrate's Court.
You can attend the court for this purpose any Monday, Wednesday or Friday between 9.15am and 9.40am, but you must report to the General Office on the third floor at 9am first.
When it's your turn to see the Magistrates, they will look at your completed form, and will ask you some questions about the nature of your complaint. The sorts of questions which may be asked are:
If the Magistrates are satisfied that your complaint is a reasonable one, your form will be signed and the court will arrange a hearing, for a future date, at which the defendant (the person you are complaining about) will be summoned to appear.
The court (comprising up to three Magistrates and their legal advisor) will listen to details of your complaint, and also to what the defendant has to say in reply.
They will hear evidence from you and your witnesses (if any) and the defence. Opportunity will be given to question any witnesses.
The Magistrates will then decide whether or not a noise nuisance exists or is likely to recur. If they decide that a nuisance does exist (or has existed - but may recur in the future), then they will make a Nuisance Order which requires the defendant to stop causing the nuisance within a stated time and/or prevent the recurrence of the nuisance.
They may also fine the defendants at this time. If the Magistrates decide that your case has not been proved they will dismiss the proceedings and may award costs against you.
If, after an Order has been made, the nuisance continues, you should make careful notes of the dates, times etc of the nuisance, as you did before, and report it to the Magistrates Court.
The court may then recall the defendant to another hearing and if your case is proved, impose a fine or another appropriate penalty.
You do not have to employ a solicitor to take action under the Environmental Protection Act. There are, however, a number of rules to be followed. Solicitors are trained in applying these rules and if you are not represented you may have difficulties in getting all your evidence heard.
If you use a solicitor you will have to pay their fees. However, if you successfully prove your case, you can ask the court to order the defendant to pay your costs in bringing these proceedings.
It may be better for you to take a civil case to apply for an injunction or for damages, and a solicitor will be able to advise you on the best course of action and your chances of success.
Remember, if you bring a case before the Magistrates and fail to prove it, you may be required to pay the costs incurred by the court, the defence solicitors and the costs of any witnesses summoned to appear as well as your own costs.
If we take a case on your behalf they carry these risks for you and will bear any costs.