Noise and Nuisance
Whilst it is a commonly held belief that ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’ this does not mean that you are free to do whatever you like on your own property. As soon as your activities start to interfere with someone elses enjoyment of their land, you will run the risk of the local Environmental Health Officer paying you a visit. They may then tell you that you are causing a Statutory Nuisance and advise you to ‘abate the nuisance’ - in other words, stop causing a problem.
The legal provisions relating to Statutory Nuisance are contained in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (Part III) and this act gives local Councils the power to deal with noise as a nuisance. The basic concept of ‘nuisance’ which is not actually defined anywhere in English law but it can be defined as ‘an unlawful act, indirectly causing physical injury to land, or substantially interfering with the enjoyment of interests in land, which is unreasonable in all the circumstances.’ Surrounding this definition is a wealth of case law on each of the points contained within it. For most people it is sufficient to know that if you behave unreasonably in making so much noise that you upset your neighbours, you will probably be causing a nuisance. There are a number of common misconceptions held by the public and businesses, about nuisance, such as the following:-
‘I was here first, the previous people didn’t complain so I’m entitled to carry on as before’ - this is not the case, and for good reason. There may have been any number of reasons why the previous occupier did not complain including fear, hearing impairment or even that they were relatives or employees of the person causing the nuisance. The legalese for this situation is that ‘it is no defence to claim that the complainant came to the nuisance.’
‘I can play my music as loud as I like during the day, it’s only at night that I have to keep the volume down’ - I’ve actually had this quoted at me by someone who very quickly learned that it is not correct. It is likely that music will be more intrusive at night, but if you play it loud enough it will still cause problems at other times. This principle extends in general to all night time noise - the later it is, the lower the background noise is likely to be, so the more intrusive other noises will be.
‘The noise from my neighbours children playing in the garden is a nuisance because I’m a shift worker and need to sleep during the day’ - this would be classed as abnormal sensitivity. Just because you have a particular requirement does not mean that your neighbours have to adjust their lives to suit you. If the neighbours are not behaving unreasonably, there cannot be a nuisance.
‘It would be too expensive to reduce the noise, so I don’t need to’ - it is possible to claim that you have taken the best practicable means to abate the nuisance, but proving that it is too expensive to do more can be difficult. The courts are much less inclined to accept such statements than they once were and may require expenditure which could push a company into unprofitability. At 10dB we use a carefully constructed noise ranking system to ensure that the best practicable means is achieved at optimum cost.
‘The noise from the factory interferes with my enjoyment of walking the footpaths near it’ - the only persons entitled to be heard in a nuisance complaint are those with a legal interest in the land in question. This known as ‘locus standii’. Walkers have no legal interest in the footpath, therefore there is no legal case to answer.
‘Even after the remedial works have been done, I can still hear the factory, so it must still be a nuisance’ - no-one is entitled to absolute peace and quiet, and just because a noise is audible does not mean it is automatically a nuisance. If the noise does not materially and significantly interfere with the enjoyment of land, it is not a nuisance.