What the law says about noise nuisance

If a neighbour (or future neighbour via their builders) makes so much noise that it is ‘prejudicial to your health’ that is a ‘statutory nuisance’. You don’t have to put up with it. You can do something about it. The City can take them to court. If they don’t, you can!

The law on noise is mainly contained in two Acts of Parliament

Environmental Protection Act 1990

Barbican resident whose health has been injured by excessive noise next door

This Barbican resident is suffering noise which is injurious to health, but he should not be taking matters into his own hands.

Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 talks about any noise coming from someone’s premises which is ‘prejudicial to health’ or a nuisance. The courts have interpreted ‘prejudicial to health’ to mean ‘injurious to health or likely to be injurious to health’ – which I am not sure really makes it any clearer. Anyway, the bottom line is that if noise from the neighbour’s flat becomes so bad that it’s a risk to your health, then it is a ‘statutory nuisance’.

There is a case which goes further and says that noise is ‘prejudicial to health’ even if it merely interferes with your personal comfort.

However, returning to ‘statutory nuisance’, once you have established that noise is bad enough to qualify as a statutory nuisance, that is where the other relevant bits of the EPA kick in. If you complain to the City that one of your neighbours is making a statutory nuisance of himself, then the City has to investigate. And if your complaint is justified, the City should then prosecute your neighbour in the magistrates’ court. Suppose the City is not enthusiastic about mounting prosecutions like that and doesn’t take any action, you are entitled to bring proceedings yourself in the magistrates’ court.

You may be saying to yourself: ‘I can’t have my neighbour prosecuted!’ But two things. It will give you something to talk about in those slow lift journeys to the ground floor. Second, it won’t ever come to that. The City will talk to your neighbour and show him the noise readings and your neighbour will be a good neighbour and stop the noise.

The Control of Pollution Act 1974

The second statute which deals with noise is the Control of Pollution Act 1974. It covers “the erection, construction, alteration repair and maintenance of buildings“. It says that the local authority, in our case the City, should protect its inhabitants from the effects of noise. If works are going to be carried out on any premises, the City can serve a notice on the owner imposing requirements on how the work is carried out. These are some of the things they can specify.

  • equipment or machinery which the builders are not allowed to use
  • permitted hours of work
  • the permitted noise level

So it would be perfectly reasonable to apply to the City, when you know works are going to be carried out next door, asking them to issue such a notice.

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