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Q&A with Handy Mac: Noisy neighbour

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Q&A with Handy Mac: Noisy neighbour

Carol has a noisy neighbour:

Q: A development has gone up next to our property. Throughout the building phase we raised concerns with the City of Cape Town about the development, which seemed to exceed building parameters.

We now have a situation where mechanical/electrical infrastructure has been placed along the exterior, at ground level, between our two properties. This comprises several large air-con units, pool and water filtration systems and extractors. It is just 3m from our living area and bedrooms. The equipment runs 24/7 and has impacted negatively on our living space, not to mention sleep. It has also devalued our property.

All this is installed on an encroachment which is one of the points on which the owner is seeking a relaxation from the city.

I believe this sort of equipment should be housed in a room or on a roof so it doesn’t affect neighbours.

What do the by-laws say about mechanical/electrical equipment and noise? I have sent two e-mails to the owner and he didn’t even bother to respond to the second one.

A: The local by-law reads: “Noise nuisance

No person shall in a public place (a) cause or permit to be caused a disturbance by shouting, screaming or making any other loud or persistent noise or sound, including amplified noise or sound; or (b) permit noise from a private residence or business to be audible in a public place, except for the purposes of loudspeaker announcements for public meetings or due to the actions of street entertainers.”

Further research indicates we do have protection under the law.

Noise pollution can be described as unwanted or offensive sounds that unreasonably intrude into a person’s daily activities. There are circumstances where the volume, extent or occurrence will cause irritation and frustration. 

Fortunately, South African law, through the Environment Conservation Act 73 of 1989 and municipal by-laws, protects recipients of intolerable noise pollution. 

In the case of Prinsloo v Shaw (1938 AD 570 575), the court stated: “A resident in a town, and more particularly a resident in a residential neighbourhood, is entitled to the ordinary comfort and convenience of his home, and if owing to the actions of his neighbour he is subjected to annoyance or inconvenience greater than that to which a normal person must be expected to submit in contact with his fellow men, then he has a legal remedy.”

I am by no means a legal expert and don’t want to dig too deep, but there are national and international guidelines which state what is an acceptable level of noise to a normal person. This noise is measured in decibels and acceptable levels are 55 decibels during the day and 45 at night.

I have a friend and neighbour who is in the environmental control division of the city council, but he is away at the moment. I will follow up with him on his return. I believe the best way to proceed is to have the noise level monitored. I will find out who can do this and at what cost because once the legal bills start, they won’t stop. If you establish the noise levels first you will know whether you have a genuine case.

*Handy Mac, aka Don MacAlister, is our expert on household DIY issues. If you have a question for him, please send it to or SMS only to 082 446 3859. Find Don on FB:

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