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How to Deal with a Noisy Neighbour

How to Deal with a Noisy Neighbour

Here’s our sensible step-by-step process for dealing with a noisy neighbour, avoiding the many pitfalls that can often make the situation worse rather than better. We can’t, of course, guarantee that following our noisy neighbour process will positively resolve your situation, but it represents a sensible approach to a problem that can often be made much worse due to heightened emotions and unrealistic expectations.

So, before we approach what step 1 is, it’s vital that we tell you what step 1 isn’t.

  • Step 1 isn’t banging on the wall and shouting at your neighbour
  • Step 1 isn’t shoving a strongly worded letter through your neighbour’s letterbox
  • Step 1 isn’t running your vacuum cleaner at 4:00am to ‘see how they like it!’.
  • Step 1 isn’t investing in a drum kit or a Schecter Hellraiser C-1 guitar.
  • Step 1 isn’t even speaking to your neighbour.

The Ultimate Guide to Noisy Neighbour Problems 1

Dealing with a Noisy Neighbour Step 1: Define

Is your neighbour a noisy neighbour? We covered this in our last blog post here, but here’s a summary.

Your neighbour could be considered a noisy neighbour if he or she

  • Lives in an adjoining property with the noise being made in close proximity to a living or sleeping area
  • Makes noise during the night or the early hours of the morning
  • Is frequently noisy

A noisy neighbour is likely to be considered more of a nuisance if they:

  • Make noise frequently but unpredictably
  • Create high-pitched or more unpleasant types of noise
  • Have malicious motives

Although the actual ‘loudness’ of the noise produced is a factor, there isn’t a defined number of decibels (dB) beyond which your neighbour might be considered a noisy neighbour. But to give you an idea of how many decibels might be considered actionable, a cordless drill produces around 78 dB, a mains-powered handheld drill produces between 90 dB and 94 dB, and a hammer drill can produce more than 100 dB.

The Ultimate Guide to Noisy Neighbour Problems 2

Dealing with a Noisy Neighbour Step 2: Research.

When we put the first draft of this guide together, we had Stage 2 as ‘Negotiation’ (i.e. calmly speaking to your neighbours and seeking a reasonable outcome). However, it quickly became apparent that it’s better to enter into that negotiation stage with a full knowledge of precisely what you can and can’t do should the negotiations flounder or fail.

Contact Your Local Council

Remember, at this stage you’re only carrying out research, not entering a formal complaint. Why? Because once a formal complaint is entered, it can (though not always) set things in motion which might make it trickier to negotiate with your neighbour in a friendly manner. For example, the council may send your neighbour a letter informing them of the complaint.

The people you’ll need to speak to will be the Environmental Health Department (or possibly the Noise and Nuisance Team) of your local council.

Find out what your options are. Different councils may approach the situation in different ways, but ultimately what you’re trying to assess is:

  • Are the council likely to consider your neighbour a noisy neighbour?
  • What will the council require you to do in order to make their assessment? For example, you may need to record your neighbours, keep a ‘noise diary’ or get the testimony of an independent third-party witness
  • If the council do decide your neighbour is a noisy neighbour, what steps will they take next?

All of this research is important when it comes to the next step, as it will enable you to negotiate from an informed position and it can take some of the emotion out of the negotiation, because you know that there are other options should the negotiation fail.

More importantly, however, it can prevent you from having unreasonable expectations. For example, if your neighbour is elderly and has their television on loud during the early evening, the council are not likely to intervene. In such a situation, you enter the negotiation knowing you’re relying almost entirely on the goodwill of your neighbour (more about ‘goodwill’, later!).

The Ultimate Guide to Noisy Neighbour Problems 3

Dealing with a Noisy Neighbour Step 3: Anticipation.

It’s important to consider just how your neighbour might respond to you raising the issue of their noise-making.

The response is going to depend on the personality of your neighbour and, as such, is subject to near-infinite variation. We can’t possibly list every eventuality, but here are the most common negative reactions:

  • Apathy: “Why is that my problem? Invest in some earplugs.”
  • Anger: “I can do what I like! It’s my house! Last time I checked, it was free country!”
  • Denial: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Maybe you’re just too sensitive.”
  • Reversal: “What about all the noise you make? I have to play my music loud to smother the sound of your TV!”

Update: If your neighbour reacts with 'Reversal' defence, you might want to consider the possibility that they are being sincere. Read our blog post: How to be a Quiet Neighbour for more information here.

Anticipating these reactions is helpful because it enables you to more effectively formulate the opening gambit of your negotiation. Plus, you’re less likely to be caught off guard and, potentially, lose your temper.

The Ultimate Guide to Noisy Neighbour Problems 4

Dealing with a Noisy Neighbour Step 4: Negotiation.

Timing is Everything

Don’t march around to your neighbour’s property during one of their ‘noise-fests’. You probably won’t be in the best of moods and this is will show on your face, turning a negotiation into a confrontation before you’ve even started. Also, due to the noise, you’ll probably have to knock hard and repeatedly on the door, making you seem aggressive.

Try to pick a time when it is quiet and you neighbour isn’t obviously in the middle of something (e.g. having dinner, trying to get to work etc.). This might require a little patience, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Take a Gift

The nature of this gift will depend on your neighbour, but it only needs to be something small and symbolic: flowers, a pot plant, a bottle of wine, a few beers, a homemade cake or cookies etc.

This will immediately set a friendly tone and also create the impression that you are reaching out to your neighbour, not simply turning up on their doorstep with an axe to grind.

Address Your Noisy Neighbour’s Objections First

This is a tried-and-tested sales technique that allows the salesperson to plough on with their sales pitch confident that their customer isn’t distracting themselves with anticipated objections. Here’s an example of an opening gambit that that addresses your objections:

“I hope you don’t think I’m being too sensitive, and I know it’s a free country and this is your private property, but could you possibly play your music a little quieter at night. I’ve tried wearing earplugs, but then I can’t hear my phone. And if I’m making too much noise or doing anything else that bothers you, please just let me know.”

It’s possible your neighbour is a complete monster and might simply respond, “Damn right it’s a free country! And damn right you’re being too sensitive. Now get out my house and take your ficus microcarpa ginseng bonsai tree with you!” But it is significantly less likely.

Be Prepared to Compromise with Your Neighbour

A ‘cease and desist’ approach may be a little unrealistic. It may be that the most you can hope to win is

  • a reduction in volume
  • a reduction in frequency
  • the noise occurring at more sociably agreeable hours

This might not be ideal or what you were hoping for, but it may be worth taking, even if you just see it as a starting point for further improvement.For a details of the steps you might encourage your neighbour to take, our How to be A Quiet Neighbour blog post should prove useful. You can find it here.

Discuss Physical Solutions

If you find your neighbour is unreasonably committed to their noise-making (“Slipknot are my life!”) or are confronted with the possibility that you are not being entirely reasonable in your expectations, you may need to consider practical, physical remedies. You’re not committing to a raft of home improvements at this point, just considering options. In this situation, it is always best to be on good terms with your neighbour, because you may be asking them to experience a considerable amount of inconvenience. If your neighbour occupies the apartment above you, the easiest remedial solutions will be to the floor of their apartment. You can soundproof the ceiling in your apartment but this is a more complex project than soundproofing your neighbour’s floor.

If your neighbour is in an adjacent property, there are very effective soundproofing solutions that can be applied to your wall, but applying a solution to both side of the wall is going to deliver a far more satisfactory result.

The reason it’s best to discuss physical solutions before you register a formal complaint with your local council is that it may lead to a successful resolution more speedily without jeopardising your relationship with your neighbour. The downside is, of course, the cost. It’s just worth keeping in mind that once you’ve committed yourself to a formal complaint procedure, your neighbour is likely to be resistant to undertaking improvements in their property, even if you are absorbing all the costs.

To explore the available floor, wall and ceiling soundproofing solutions, click on the links below:

The Ultimate Guide to Noisy Neighbour Problems 5

Dealing with a Noisy Neighbour Step 5: Fair Warning

If your neighbour appears unwilling to help you out, then you may be able to persuade them by telling them you intend to take it further. The best way to do this and stand any chance of maintaining a good relationship is to tell them what you don’t want to do. So:

  • I really don’t want to contact the council about this
  • I really don’t want you to be issued with a Noise Abatement Order
  • I wouldn’t wish a £1,000 fine on anyone…

… but I really don’t know what else to do.

Approaching it this way means it doesn’t seem as if you’re threatening them. Rather, you’re trying to help them avoid an unpleasant outcome which you may have no choice but to set in motion. You’re basically saying, “Come on, help me out! I’m not the bad guy, here.”

The Ultimate Guide to Noisy Neighbour Problems 6

Dealing with a Noisy Neighbour Step 6: Assessment.

If by this point, you haven’t come to some sort of amicable arrangement with your noisy neighbour, you need to consider the lay of the land before moving onto step 7 (Contact Your Local Council).

Even though you didn’t get the outcome you’d hoped for, are you still on good terms with your neighbour? If so, it might be you can revisit the subject at a later date. Some people are reluctant to give ground initially but may be persuaded by a sustained charm offensive, or may need a little time for their thoughts to percolate and reach the right conclusion.

Patience can really pay off at this stage. If, however, you’re really at your wits end or see no hope of your neighbour giving ground, then…

The Ultimate Guide to Noisy Neighbour Problems 7

Dealing with a Noisy Neighbour Step 7: Contact Your Local Council.

Call the Environmental Health Department of your local council or the Noise and Nuisance Team, if your council has such a thing. It might be your council has its own initiative in place to deal with noisy neighbour problems; you’ll be able to find details on your council’s website if you search “nuisance noise” or “noisy neighbours”.

What happens next will vary depending on your local council but here are some common next steps (again this may vary from council to council):

  • The council are likely to advise that you try to negotiate with your neighbour before taking things further. At this point, you can tell them you’ve done all you can.
  • The council will send someone to your property to assess the noise for themselves (this might be the Daytime Duty Officer or it might be an Environmental Health Officer).
  • The council will decide if the noise represents a “statutory nuisance”. This is generally defined as noise that might “unreasonably and substantially interfere with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises” or something which might “injure health or be likely to injure health”.
  • You may be asked to fill in a ‘Noise Diary’ for a week or so, to make a record of the disturbance. Click here to see an example.
  • The council will give your neighbour 7 days to take remedial action and if there is no sign of action being taken, they will issue an abatement notice.
  • If the abatement order is ignored and the noise continues your council will measure the noise from within your property and, if the noise levels are noncompliant, will either:
    • Issue a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) of approximately £110 (prosecuting if the FPN isn’t paid on time)
    • Prosecute with the possibility of issuing a fine of £1,000
    • Seize noise-making equipment (e.g. speakers or amplifiers)

The Ultimate Guide to Noisy Neighbour Problems 8

Dealing with a Noisy Neighbour Step 8: Take Private Action

If your local council are unable to ascertain whether or not the noise your neighbour is making doesn’t constitute a “statutory nuisance”, you may find yourself in a position where they cannot take further action. For example, your neighbour’s noise-making may be very sporadic and whenever they turn up, he or she is as quiet as a mouse. This can be frustrating but your local council will have limited resources and can only afford to give so much time over to your complaint.

You can now make your complaint directly to the Magistrates Court under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

But first, you’ll need to gather evidence of your neighbour’s behaviour. Make a noise diary (see above) and make a record of all your neighbour’s noise-making (dates, times, types of noise, how it affected you etc.). Get it independently witnessed/signed. This might be another neighbour or a work colleague. Make sure you have the full name and address details of your noisy neighbour.

Here are the basic steps in the procedure:

  • Discuss the problem with your neighbour (done!).
  • Write to your neighbour, dating the letter and keeping a copy.
  • Give three days’ notice in writing to your neighbour (making a copy for yourself) that you will be making a complaint to the Magistrate’s Court.
  • Go to the Clerks’ Office of your Magistrate’s Court and tell them you want a Summons served under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. You will have to produce the evidence you gathered to demonstrate you have an arguable case.
  • If the Magistrates agree that there is a case to answer, they will set a date for a hearing and issue a summons.
  • You may wish to retain the services of a solicitor, as your neighbour may do so. Make sure you ascertain any costs you’re likely to generate. Keep in mind that you may be liable to pay your neighbour’s costs if your action proves unsuccessful.
  • If you win, the Magistrates might prohibit your neighbour from making further excessive noise or might set out conditions (e.g. when they can or can’t make said noise).
  • If your neighbour is non-compliant, a substantial fine is likely to be imposed. Find out more about fines here.

The Ultimate Guide to Noisy Neighbour Problems 9

Dealing with a Noisy Neighbour Step 9: Home Improvements

Perhaps you were unable to persuade the council and the magistrate’s court that there was a case to answer. Perhaps the cost of hiring a solicitor was prohibitive. Perhaps you simply didn’t want to go through the stresses and strains of a courtroom drama (“You can’t handle the truth!”). Perhaps the thought of instigating a feud with your neighbour filled you with dread: who knows what kind of tit-for-tat vendetta might result?

Luckily, there are physical alterations you can make to your property that will help reduce the amount of intrusive noise.

Why not take a look at our Noisy Neighbours Product Selector, which will take you to the product you need in five clicks or less?

Noisy Neighbour Next Door

Soundproofing boards made from a variety of materials can be fitted to reduce the amount of noise passing through from your noisy neighbour. These sorts of products can be fitted directly to the wall with a suitable adhesive or can be fitted to a ‘resilient bar’ (or ‘res bar’) that effectively creates a floating second wall on top of the existing wall. In addition to resilient bars, there are also acoustic decoupling clips that even more effectively isolate the new wall from the original structure. Acoustic slabs can be fitted in cavities to prevent even more sound transmission.

Some of these solutions are relatively simple and a reasonably proficient DIYer could undertake them. Some, however, are a little more complex and will almost certainly require the attentions of a construction professional.

If you’ve managed (saint that you are) to maintain a good relationship with your neighbour, you may be able to convince them to allow the same improvements to be made on their side of the wall, giving you an even better chance of a peaceful life.

Noisy Neighbour Below

If your neighbour is in the apartment below your own, there are a number of solutions you can consider but the most appropriate for tackling ‘rising noise’ are acoustic barriers or acoustic overlay boards. The density of these products reduces the amount of airborne noise entering your property.

Noisy Neighbour Above

This is the most complex problem to resolve if you are not on good terms with your neighbour because the most effective solutions are the ones that are applied to the floor of your neighbour’s property (see above).

If you and your neighbour are no longer on speaking terms, then you will need to look at acoustic ceiling solutions.

Acoustic ceiling solutions generally need to be applied to a resilient bar and, as with acoustic wall solutions, can be improved with the addition of acoustic decoupling clips and the insertion of acoustic slab materials between battens.

When these acoustic ceiling solutions are combined with an acoustic floor solution, the results are, of course, a lot more effective.

Before making modifications to your home, be sure to consult an experienced soundproofing expert.

The Ultimate Guide to Noisy Neighbour Problems 10

Summary

  1. Define. Assess whether or not your neighbour qualifies as a ‘noisy neighbour’.
  2. Research. Explore what options are available to you and address your expectations.
  3. Anticipation. Consider all the possible ways in which your neighbour might respond.
  4. Negotiation. Make sure your timing is right, set a friendly tone, address your neighbour’s objections in advance, and be prepared to compromise…
  5. Fair Warning. Let your neighbour know what the consequences of noncompliance might be, but do this in a way that lets them know it is a last resort for you, not a threat.
  6. Assessment. Post-negotiation, consider whether or not you want to embark on a formal complaint trajectory or, following a cooling-off period, attempt another round of negotiations.
  7. Contact Your Council. Make sure you have all the information the Magistrate will need.
  8. Take Private Action. In the event that the council are unwilling or unable to proceed, you can approach the Magistrate’s Court yourself. This can be costly and stressful.
  9. Home Improvements. Consult a soundproofing professional and explore the numerous home modifications that could banish your noisy neighbour nightmare.

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. Or maybe you’ve had the misfortune of living next door to a noise maker and can offer us the benefit of your hard-won wisdom. We’ll try to respond as quickly as possible.

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