How to deal with noisy neighbours

Noise is part of every day life. However, continued noise from a neighbour can affect your life and your degree. This quick guide aims to show you the options available.

Much of this page was taken from


According to Environmental Campaigns (Encams) noise is a problem for one in three and a serious problem for one in 12, and according to Government figures local authorities received 228,704 domestic noise complaints in 2001/02.

That's a lot of grief for a lot of people. So if you can't hear yourself think and you're stumbling around in a state of sleep-deprived despair, here's a run through some of the options for dealing with noisy neighbours - none of them involving ear-plugs

Defining Unreasonable Noise

Noise, usually defined as unwanted sound, is measured scientifically in decibels. The sound of breathing is 10 decibels, a washing machine is 70, and heavy traffic is 80/90.

Prolonged exposure above 85 decibels will damage hearing - which is probably why The Who's Pete Townshend is almost deaf and suffers "unbearable" pains in his ears.

However, when it comes to defining noise as a statutory nuisance, the current regulations don't rely on decibels to decide. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 (Sections 79 - 82), has this to say:

"For a noise to constitute a "nuisance" in the legal sense, it must be unreasonable and cause substantial interference to normal domestic activities.

"The frequency and duration of individual occurrences, loudness, time of day/night, as well as the length of time the nuisance has been caused (weeks/months) are amongst the factors which are taken into consideration".

What to do

If you're convinced that the ear-bashing you're currently enduring more than qualifies as "unreasonable" there are several things you can do.

A Quiet Word

If a neighbour is bombarding you with booming drum 'n' bass, the first step, says the Department of the Environment, is to have a quiet word - "you may find that they are unaware that they are disturbing you".

You do not have to talk to them. A nicely worded note left pushed under the door or through the letter box can help in many cases.

Sage advice, no doubt, and many problems are solved at this early stage.

Contact the University Accommodation Office

Applies to students in student accommodation

If you feel that they have not taken heed of your advice, go to your accommodations reception and tell them about it. They will have various forms of notification and punishment at their disposal. If they seem to not be moving fast enough, then go to the student accommodation office for your university and complain there. Also start to involve your personal tutor and your student advice centre


Applies to you if you are not in student accommodation

Mediation UK will act as go-betweens and will try and negotiate a solution acceptable to all parties. Between 2002 and 2003, they dealt with over 47,000 cases, 78% of which reached full or partial agreement, so they really are worth a go.

Bear in mind, too, that when you decide to sell your house the buyer's solicitor will send you a form asking if you've had any disputes with the neighbours - lie and you can be liable. So sorting the problem out though mediation could save you a lot of hassle in the future as well as ensure a good night's sleep.

What to do - Legal Measures

3. Call the Council: If these informal approaches fail, you'll need to call in the big legal guns - and that means the Environmental Health Officer at your local council.

They are legally obliged to investigate all complaints of unreasonable noise and will come to see if your complaint amounts to a statutory nuisance as defined above.

In the process, they will probably ask you to keep a diary detailing the dates, times, duration, and nature of the noise. And they might install equipment to monitor the racket. They will also write to the person causing the noise and request their co-operation.

If the council decides the noise constitutes a statutory nuisance they will serve a noise abatement order on the perpetrator. This informs them that the noise is an offence and must be stopped.

If there are further offences they can seize equipment (e.g.: a stereo) and they can also bring the offender to the Magistrates Court. Those convicted can be fined up to £5,000 and a further £500 per day for every day they do not comply with the court's orders.

If the noise is part of a wider problem involving a violent or abusive neighbour, the council can hit them with an Anti-social Behaviour Order (ASBO), which allows the council to take action with the police.

Offenders can be banned from certain actions, have a curfew imposed and can even be banged up for a maximum of five years, a measure which will certainly sort the problem out once and for all.