Law guide: Complaints and disputes

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Noisy neighbours

Noisy neighbours

First steps

Noisy neighbours can disturb a person's enjoyment of their home and inconsiderate behaviour can even be detrimental to health. If you are concerned about the noise coming from a neighbour's home, a local business or manufacturer, or noise from stationary vehicles or equipment in the street, often the best way to deal with the problem is to go to the source.

Consider contacting the person or company responsible for the noise and point out the problem. You may find they are unaware that they are disturbing you. Remember, we may all be guilty of making noise at some time without knowing it. The problem is not always one of inconsiderate behaviour; even homes that have reasonably good sound insulation may not cope with noise from powerful, modern equipment.


If the direct approach does not succeed, you may want to consider mediation.

An independent third party will listen to the views of both parties and can help them to reach an agreement or compromise. You can obtain details about the location of services in your area from:

Taking formal action

When informal action is not possible or fails, you can resolve the problem by taking formal action. The most common route involves complaining to your local authority/district council about the noise problem. It has a duty to investigate complaints from premises (land and buildings) and vehicles, machinery or equipment in the street and to deal with any noise which they consider to be a statutory nuisance under the following legislation:

  • In England and Wales under sections 80 and 81 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (as amended by the Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993)
  • In Northern Ireland under Part 7 of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011

The statutory nuisance regime is dealt with fully in our Pollution section.

Using codes of practice

Codes of practice give advice about the minimisation of problems caused by potentially noisy activities. Courts must have regard to relevant codes approved by the Secretary of State when considering the defence of best practicable means.

There are codes approved by the Secretary of State dealing with noise from audible alarms, ice cream van chimes, model aircraft and construction sites. There are also a number of other codes offering advice on how to reduce the effects of noisy activities including audible bird scarers, noise from pop concerts and off-road motorcycling.

Burglar Alarms (England and Wales)

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 section 69 allows for local authorities in England and Wales to designate certain areas 'alarm notification areas'. In these areas, the person responsible for any premises where an audible intruder alarm is installed must notify the local authority of the contact details for a key-holder within 28 days of installing the alarm. Failure to do so is an offence punishable by a fine of up to £1,000. Alternatively, the responsible person can be issued with a fixed penalty notice for an amount specified by the local authority (or £75 if no amount is specified). The key-holder must either be a key-holding company or an individual who is not the occupier of the premises but lives in the vicinity. The key-holder must have access to the part of the premises where the alarm is controlled, have the information necessary to turn it off and agree to be a key-holder.

If the alarm rings continuously for more than 20 mins or intermittently for over an hour and is likely to reasonably cause annoyance to persons living or working in the area, an authorised officer of the local authority can enter the premises (if they can do so without using force) to silence the alarm. If force is necessary to enter the premises, a warrant must be obtained and the occupier of the premises notified that the alarm is causing annoyance.

Anti-Social Behaviour Orders

In England and Wales the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 requires all local authorities and the police to develop local crime and disorder reduction partnerships and to develop and implement strategies for reducing crime and disorder at a local level. In serious cases, the Act and the Anti-social Behaviour (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 allow local authorities and the police and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, working alone or together, to seek anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) against any resident, not just a tenant, who is causing harassment, alarm or distress to others.

Whilst ASBOs (Scotland and Northern Ireland) and injunctions and Community Protection Notices (England and Wales) would not be the first recourse in cases where noise nuisance is the main problem, they are an effective way of tackling more serious anti-social behaviour which may include noise nuisance. Circumstances where their use may be appropriate would include dealing with, for example, families whose anti-social behaviour, when challenged, leads to verbal abuse, threats or graffiti, or where noise nuisance is part of a pattern of unruly behaviour by tenants or owner-occupiers which intimidates others.

As well as dealing with existing problems, these controls also cover noise that is expected to occur or recur. For legal purposes, noise includes vibration.

For more information on ASBOs and other measures, see our Solutions (England & Wales) and Solutions (Scotland & Northern Ireland) sections.

Low frequency noise

The following may all be sources of LFN:

  • Amplified music
  • Pumps
  • Fans
  • Boilers
  • Ventilation plant
  • Foundries
  • Blasting/quarrying
  • Road
  • Rail and air traffic
  • Electrical installations

Apart from the difficulties of tracking down the source of low frequency noise, and assessing its magnitude, practical methods of control are technically difficult and often prohibitive in cost. Sound proofing in buildings is usually impracticable as the design - particularly of modern buildings - can enhance the effect. Enclosing the noise source is a better option and will provide a more comprehensive solution. This is often difficult and expensive as it involves enclosing the source in a combination of massive structures to reduce sound transmission. LFN from machinery can sometimes be reduced by the use of vibration absorbing mountings. The answer to eliminating low frequency noise lies in the design of the sources themselves. There is also a need to develop agreed standards for measuring and controlling LFN.

If you are persistently troubled by low frequency noise or hum, contact the environmental health department of your local authority and ask them to investigate it for you.

For advice and assistance in England and Wales, you can contact the Low Frequency Noise Sufferers Association.

Noisy neighbours in Scotland

First steps

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 also applies in Scotland and the procedure is essentially the same but there are several differences, chiefly with respect to the courts which hear the applications. This is briefly discussed, together with the Environmental Protection Act and statutory nuisance, in our Pollution section.

Noise nuisance services

The noise control provisions in Part 5 of the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 also represent an additional tool to manage noise nuisance. Local authorities are given the power to implement a noise nuisance service in their area up to 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Moreover, provision is made for fixed penalty notices for noise nuisance and additional powers are introduced for local authority officers to seize noise-making equipment.

Moreover, if your noisy neighbour is a tenant as opposed to an owner-occupier, local authorities have the power to serve an anti-social behaviour notice on the private landlord of the tenant. This applies where the tenant (or a visitor of the tenant) engages in anti-social behaviour at or near the house. The notice specifies actions the landlord must take to address the anti-social behaviour. A landlord who does not carry out the actions in the notice is guilty of an offence, and the local authority may also apply to the sheriff court for an order that no rent is payable or for an order transferring management control to the local authority. The local authority may also take steps to deal with the behaviour described in the notice at the landlord's expense.

The Scottish government's website has an Antisocial Behaviour section which provides contact details for all the Antisocial Behaviour Teams or equivalent bodies in Scotland's various local authorities. These can be found by selecting the correct local authority from the links set out on the page.

For more information on ASBOs and other measures, see our Solutions (Scotland & Northern Ireland) article.

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