Banging. Booming. Sawing. Rattling. Loud noises from next door are a common source of neighbourly feuds. While what is considered 'reasonable' noise is hard to quantify, you can still approach your neighbour and come to an agreement. If no agreement is possible, there are other actions that you may be able to take.
What is noise pollution?
The Environment Protection Authority of Victoria (EPA) defines noise pollution as sound at a level which is annoying, distracting or physically harmful. However, this can still mean different things to different people.
In residential areas, what is an acceptable level of noise to one person may be unacceptable to another. What’s considered acceptable may also depend on the time of day and the activity generating the noise.
Sources of noise pollution may include:
- General residential noise.
- Commercial and industrial noise.
- Construction noise.
- Entertainment venue noise.
- Motor vehicle, train or tram noise.
Unwanted noise can be a problem and cause severe negative effects on health and well-being. For instance, noise may lead to anxiety, stress, and loss of sleep.
When a neighbour's noise unreasonable?
It is not always possible to totally eliminate noise, especially in dense urban areas. However, it is important to be aware of the needs of others.
What is considered unreasonable will also depend on where you live. For instance, residents living in an apartment or attached house should expect to hear the occasional noise due to normal activity in neighbouring homes.
But the Environment Protection (Residential Noise) Regulations 2008 does put limitations on certain noisy activities. For example:
- Lawnmowers and grass cutting devices may be used Monday to Friday between 7am and 8pm.
- Power tools, chainsaws, compressors and hammers may be used between 7am and 8pm Monday to Friday, and between 9am and 8pm on weekends and public holidays.
- Domestic air conditioners, evaporative coolers, pumps, domestic heating equipment and vacuum cleaners may be used on weekdays between 7am and 10pm.
- Instruments, stereos, radios, televisions, public address systems and any electrically amplified sound, may be used on Saturdays between 9am and 11pm and Sundays between 9am and 10pm.
The first steps to take
If you're experiencing noise that you believe is unreasonable, the first step is to talk to your neighbour. Remember that your neighbour might not be aware that they’re disturbing you, so a polite and direct discussion is the best course of action.
Confronting the problem early will help your neighbour understand your point of view and clear the way for them to be more aware of their noise impact. Here are some tips for talking with your neighbour:
- Plan what you will say – Your neighbour will be more likely to respond and hear your concerns if you approach them thoughtfully and positively.
- Address the issue in person – While having a face-to-face conversation is more difficult than posting a letter or notice, you’ll be able to express yourself in the right tone and hear your neighbour’s response.
- Pick the moment – Find a convenient time when you and your neighbour can discuss the issue and resolve your concern, such as the early evening or a Sunday morning.
- Focus on the noise – Don’t focus on the activity as the issue. There may be a solution where the neighbour can continue their activity while reducing or eliminating the impact to you.
- Suggest a reasonable action – Suggest a solution that will resolve your problem. Start by asking, ‘would you be willing to...?’.
The best outcome is when this informal approach resolves the issue. If this approach doesn't work, there are other avenues to resolve excessive noise coming from a neighbour.
If talking with your noisy neighbour doesn’t work
Neighbours must not interfere with each other’s health or well-being or make unreasonable noise. If your neighbour continues to dismiss your concerns and the noise pollution persists, then there are other options for you to explore.
Depending on the circumstances, this may involve an action by the Police, an action at the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), or an action in the Magistrates’ Court. Here is a list of possible options if talking directly with the noisy neighbour doesn’t resolve the issue:
- Body corporate (if applicable) – If you live in an apartment or unit complex, then raise the noise issue with your body corporate. Check if other neighbours are having the same issues with noise pollution to make a strong case to the body corporate.
- Police and the council – Contact your local Police to discuss your issue. Victoria Police and Council officers can issue a direction to your neighbour to stop unreasonable noise for 72 hours. A failure to comply may result in an on-the-spot fine.
- Mediation – The process of mediation relies on both parties to the dispute being willing to discuss the problem in the presence of a mediator. The Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria is an organisation that can assist in resolving neighbour noise problems.
- VCAT or Court – If you continue to have ongoing problems with an unreasonably noisy neighbour, it may be appropriate for you to seek legal advice as to the best course of action. This course of action could include engaging VCAT or taking the matter to the Victorian Magistrate’s Court.
The next steps
For more information about dealing with a noisy neighbour, refer to the EPA’s resources on the issue.
Do you have a serious dispute and have run out of other options? Discuss your situation with a Melbourne lawyer.