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Having problems with noisy neighbours?

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Last Updated: 01/12/2016  
Author: S. Massey    Tags: Noisy Neighbours


It is important that all lessees and/or their tenants are able to enjoy their own homes and be free, as far as possible, from the noise and inconsiderate behaviour of others. Other things to bear in mind include:

• Let your neighbours know if you’re going to have a party and finish any parties at a reasonable hour.
• Avoid doing noisy housework like vacuuming late at night or early in the morning.
• Do not do any noisy DIY late at night or early in the morning.
• Noise travels through open windows so be particularly considerate during the summer.
• Remember that if your neighbours have young children, they go to bed earlier – and that, if you have children yourself, others can hear them too!

You may also have a provision in your lease which requires you to carpet the floors of your flat. Please do not make any alterations to flooring or floor covering without reference to your lease and to your managing agents.

What your landlord or managing agent can do to prevent noise will be limited. It is unlikely that a court will evict a long leaseholder for noise problems.

Use the following stepped approach:
1. Keep records
2. Start building a relationship with your neighbour
3. Have a quiet word about the problem
4. Have a stronger word: explain the impact on you and/or your family
5. Employ mediation services
6. Contact your local authority
7. Contact abatement societies
8. Take legal action.

Keep a record of the nuisance as soon as it happens. This could include the date, time, type of noise etc. It is not a legal requirement, but you may need it to back up your complaint and it could be used in evidence if you go to court.

If you do approach them, wait until a suitable time. You may feel angry but do not lose your temper. It could be used against you at another time. Plan what you are going to say and keep calm.
Before you approach your neighbour it is important to assess the risk to your personal safety and property. If you feel frightened or intimidated by your neighbour and you are worried that they may respond aggressively, then approaching them to complain may not be the best option; you may wish to consider contacting the police in these circumstances.

Most problems can be solved amicably without the need for further action. You may feel anxious about approaching your neighbour but remember, they may genuinely be unaware that they are the source of a problem. When approached, often they will be embarrassed about the nuisance they have been causing and will be more considerate in future. It is important to do this as early as possible before the problem spirals out of control.

Neighbour mediation is a process in which a third party helps resolve disputes between people who live in the same locality or neighbourhood. It is a route that aims to assist both parties in identifying each other's needs, sorting out any problems, exploring solutions and negotiating an agreement. This often helps preserve or build better neighbourly relations and can sort out disputes before they escalate. Most mediation services are registered charities but some are part of other organisations such as local authorities or the local Citizens' Advice.

Your local authority has a statutory duty to investigate complaints. Under Section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the Environmental Health Officer (EHO) is required to take “all reasonable” steps to assess whether the noise constitutes a statutory nuisance.
If the EHO is satisfied that a statutory nuisance exists, or is likely to occur or reoccur, they have to serve a noise abatement notice. However, they may suggest other ways forward:

• Mediation: Many local authorities have independent trained mediators who will offer to mediate between you and your neighbour. Sometimes this may work, but other times it may not be appropriate.

• A warning letter: Some local authorities maysend a warning letter. Again, this may work, but it can backfire. It can alert the neighbours that you have complained and therefore the noise may become more intermittent and collecting evidence may become a problem.

• An abatement order: Ultimately, if the noise persists and the local authority has deemed the noise a statutory nuisance, they have a duty to serve a notice on the offenders. If the offender fails to comply they can face court action. The local authority also has the power to confiscate any equipment causing the noise.

If for whatever reason the local authority does not take action, of you do not wish to involve them, you can complain about a noise problem direct to a magistrates' court. The magistrates' court will need to be persuaded that the noise problem amounts to a statutory nuisance. This is why it's important to keep a written record of the dates, times and duration of the noise as well as a description of its nature and the distress it causes you.
Before you complain to a magistrates' court you should seek some advice from Citizens' Advice, a solicitor, or the clerk at the local courts. There is no legal aid for such cases.

Some local authorities now have emergency response teams to deal with urgent noise problems. They can issue warnings, seize equipment and issue fixed penalty notices of £100 (Noise Act 1996).

Incessant dog barking may be classed as a statutory nuisance and can be reported to the local authority.

Local authorities have the power to gain entry to premises to stop noise. This power can be used to stop misfiring alarms. The Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993 gives local authorities power to disconnect burglar and car alarms.

It's not as straight forward as you may think for your landlord or agent to take action against noisy neighbours.
Most leases will contain covenants which say leaseholders shall not cause nuisance and annoyance to neighbours. There may be more specific restrictions such as no loud music between 11pm and 7.30am or that floors should be carpeted.
These clauses are all well and good but in practice, difficult to enforce. The meaning of the covenant should be clear before considering enforcement. Any benefit of doubt over the meaning will always be given to the leaseholder.
The lease may not contain a clause that requires the landlord to enforce the covenants; if it does not, there is no obligation on them to take any action. Even if the lease does contain a clause requiring the landlord to enforce the covenants (known as a mutual enforceability covenant) there is usually a catch; the catch being that the leaseholder complaining about the noise will have to pay the landlord's costs for enforcing the covenant.
So how does the landlord enforce a covenant against noise or one that requires carpets and not laminated floors? A reminder letter to the offending leaseholder may work. If it does not, then the legal remedies open to landlords are an injunction or forfeiture.
Injunctions are costly but can be applied for with or without forfeiture. The aggrieved leaseholder can also apply for an injunction and may well be more successful of they do.
Forfeiture is not an easy route for landlords and can be extremely costly. It's also not going to produce quick results. However, the threat of forfeiture itself may well produce a response from the offending leaseholder. It may also be the most effective way of preventing the use of laminated floors spreading through a block.

Taken in part from ARMA Lessee Advisory Notes (LAN) 06/07

If you would like to discuss these or any other service charge matters please contact our Block Management Department.