Noisy Neighbours - What's the problem and what can be done?

By Jonathan Daines

Woman covers ears with pillow to escape noisy from neighbours

The problem with noisy neighbours.

Usually complaints about noisy neighbours are limited to one off or occasional events and are ordinarily related to teenage parties whilst parents or guardians are away or over enthusiastic house warming parties. The police or Environmental Health is called and the noise maker told to reduce the noise. The following day the noise is over with the offender usually feeling suitably embarrassed.

Sometimes, however, noise is persistent and repetitive and, of course, we are all entitled to live free from unreasonable disturbances, which can include excessive, ongoing noise.

Within the home we are affected by two types of noise: Airborne and Impact.

Airborne – noise is from loud conversation, music or a television.

Impact – noise is from slamming doors, bass music or heavy footsteps causing vibrations.

Tenancy agreements should, and usually do, include clauses which cover “excessive noise”.

How do tenants handle noise complaints?

If a tenant has issues with a noisy neighbour, the first approach should be for the tenant to approach the neighbour in a friendly manner and try to resolve the issue. It could be something as simple as headphones not plugged in or the neighbour being slightly deaf. If the neighbour is unresponsive and/or reacts aggressively, then you would advise your tenant to keep a record of the dates and times when the noise is created. If possible, the sound level should also be measured (decibel readers are available for less than £20 and many phones can download an app) before reporting the problem to the local authority.

A statutory nuisance includes loud music, noisy parties, barking dogs, faulty alarms and excessive volume on the television or in a conversation. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Noise Act 1996 give local authorities (LAs) a duty to investigate and the power to deal with statutory nuisance. If the LA finds that excessive sound is being created, it can issue a noise abatement order on the person creating the noise nuisance. If the order is broken or ignored, the perpetrator can face an unlimited fine and have the equipment causing the offence confiscated.

If, however, the noise levels are considered ‘reasonable’ but the poor construction of the property enables sound to travel so that is appears excessive, the LA will not normally take further action.

If the neighbour is the leaseholder, they may well be in breach of a clause in their lease about not disturbing neighbours with noise. If you are in a flat, and it is the floorboards that are the problem, check the lease because there may be a clause that says that suitable floor covering must be in place. Some leases require that the leaseholders must not make noise audible outside their property at certain times (such as between 11pm and 7am). Leases sometimes also ban pets (if it is a barking dog that is the problem) and musical instruments. If you complain to the freeholder (from whom the leaseholder leases the property), they can issue a warning or start legal proceedings against the leaseholder for breaching their lease. As they could, in extreme situations, lose their property, this can be a very effective way of making your neighbours take noise seriously, though it is generally not very good for neighbourly relationships!

Is a landlord responsible for noisy tenants?

If it is your tenant causing the problem, then as their landlord you should first approach them to try and resolve the issue. If the tenant is unresponsive then the tenancy agreement should ideally include a section covering the issue.

A survey showed that 15% of landlords receive complaints about their noisy tenants.

Under Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988, excessive noise can be grounds for eviction of a tenant.

If the problem is left to fester then it is possible that the neighbour or local authority could pursue legal action. They can also claim for damages, under common law, or apply for an injunction to prevent the noise continuing.

A landlord can be held liable in certain situations, if they are considered to have authorised the tenant to do whatever is causing the nuisance (for example playing drums) or have actually participated in the offence.

Blocks of flats

Many complaints come from tenants or their neighbours in blocks of flats where noises from neighbouring flats can cause stress.

A vibrating washing machine is a common irritant. It is important that these appliances are levelled off by adjusting the two front screw thread legs or otherwise insulated through rubber matting etc.

Steps you can take to help reduce noise levels in rental properties

Outside

If the noise is coming from outside the property, look for gaps around doors and windows. Small imperfections around window frames can easily be filled in and foam sealing strips can be fitted around a door to reduce noise from the outside. Alternatively, a thicker and better insulated entrance door may be worth installing and it is also likely to be more fire resistant.

Air vents

Noise can be coming through air vents and fans. Although it is tempting to cover them up, they need to be kept open in rooms where there are solid fuel or gas burning appliances. It might be possible to fit a new vent in another room or install acoustic vents which have a clever system built in to suppress sound.

Chimneys

The chimney can be blocked with special draught excluders which fit into the base of the flue. Be aware that damp issues can occur so a vent should be assembled within the chimney structure.

Windows

The thin sheets of glass used in single glazed windows offer little resistance against sound from outside. Secondary glazing kits which fit on the inside of the window reveal are a cheaper and easy to fit solution suitable for DIY installation, otherwise double glazing would be recommended. Whilst thermal double glazing has a small gap between the panes, soundproof double glazing works better if there is a larger gap between the sheets of glass.

Floors

Hard flooring is another source of noise as footsteps resonating upon it can cause disturbance in the room below. This is often the reason why so many leases in blocks of flats require the carpeting of rooms. For maximum noise reduction, a carpet should always be laid on top of suitable underlay. This cushions the impact of noise from footsteps and prolongs the lifespan of a carpet.

Alternatively, residents can place large rugs in areas of the greatest footfall to at least reduce the noise problem.

Laminate flooring is one of the worst types of floors, most often due to unsuitable underlay or the lack of it. As it is a floating floor, it can be lifted up and laid again with an acoustic underlay. This reduces the noise problems and, generally, the thicker the underlay, the better.

Doors

Modern internal doors usually have two thin outer sheets with a cardboard honeycomb layer within, which offer little protection against sound. Replacing these with a plain, solid door like a fire door might also make a difference. Asking tenants to keep internal doors shut tight to prevent sound flowing through the whole property is an idealistic solution but probably not that realistic.

Once the ‘source’ of the noise has been identified, work can start to eliminate or at least reduce the noise problem.

Which solution?

Excessive noise can cause tension and often leads to a strained relationship between neighbours. Of course, the perception of what constitutes excessive noise varies from one person to another. Should negotiations between the tenant and the neighbour or between the landlord and the tenant not work, the complainant or landlord can choose to go down a more formal route or consider some of the various technical building-related solutions outlined in this article.

Have you had a problem with noise?

Have you had an issue with noisy tenants / neighbours? How did you handle it? I’d love to hear any tips you can share with our readers?

About Jonathan Daines

After having worked as a high street letting agent for over 5 years, I believed there was a better way of helping landlords find tenants without the unnecessary expenses. And so in 2008, lettingaproperty.com was born and has since let over 8,000 properties across the country. I am very proud of the service levels we offer and to have achieved a 99.3% recommendation rate on reviewcentre.com. If you have any questions about our business, please do let me know. I look forward to hearing from you.

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