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:
- barking dogs
- 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:
- domestic appliance noise
- moving furniture
- heavy footfall
- children playing
- closing doors
- dropping objects
- intermittent banging
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.
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.
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 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.
What we will do to help
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 blank log sheet to download. 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 you 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.
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 3 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.
After the 3 days have passed, then complete 2 copies of the Form B - Complaint Form, take one copy to the Magistrates Court and keep the other copy for your own use.
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:
- Your name and address
- Your telephone number
- The address where the nuisance is coming from
- The name of person(s) causing the nuisance
- When you first experienced the problem
- How often the nuisance occurs
- Have you complained to the person causing the problem and if so what was his/her response?
- What evidence of nuisance you have
- What other witnesses there 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.
At the hearing
The court 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.
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 the nuisance continues
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.
Solicitors and costs
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.
If we take a case on your behalf they carry these risks for you and will bear any costs.