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Coping with noisy neighbours

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Q: My neighbours are very noisy and often keep us awake at night. Our neighbourhood is also very noisy due to its location on a fairly busy road and the fact that everyone seems to be renovating their homes or gardens. We seem to be surrounded by noise. I have not complained, as I do not want to be “that” person, but at what point do we draw the line and actually say something to someone or report them? And if we do this, which is the best way to approach it?

A: South African law makes a distinction between “disturbing noise” and “noise nuisance”. The first is objective and is defined as a scientifically measurable noise level, such as a loud party where music is played at midnight at a volume where the lyrics are audible to neighbours.

The second is a subjective measure and is defined as any noise that disturbs or impairs the convenience or peace of anyone, like the incessant barking of a neighbour’s dog.

Both are illegal in terms of the Environment Conservation Act but, while the first is usually effectively handled with a call to the police, the latter is not always as simple.

To show that a “noise nuisance” exists, a reasonable person must find a certain noise intolerable or seriously affecting his enjoyment of his property. It may come down to a court applying a test of objective reasonableness.

In residential areas, the enforcement is by the local authority and there are various penalties, provided it is shown that the noise actually exceeds acceptable levels.

Generally, the guilty party will be asked to stop making the noise and, if he fails to do so, further steps can be
taken such as fines issued by the authorities or an action brought to court by the complainant.

However, this final step should be carefully considered and complainants must ensure they have all their ducks
in a row as payment for the costs usually depends on the outcome with the courts ordering the unsuccessful party to settle the costs. – Eduan Milner, Eduan Milner Attorneys, Notaries and Conveyancers

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