UK: Dealing With Noise Nuisance

Last Updated: 26 April 2001
Article by Sharon Hunt

Sharon Hunt of Roythorne & Co, an NFU Legal Panel firm, explains the legal remedies available for dealing with excessive levels of noise

The Countryside is not the haven of peace it once was. Gone are the days when the most activity a summer field saw was a handful of strawberry pickers. Now there are funfairs, holiday caravans, car-boot sales and rock concerts. Even if the outside world does not physically encroach on your property, its noise levels can certainly hinder your quiet enjoyment. Noise may be a nuisance, but do we have a right to peace and quiet?

The answer is that we do have the right to quiet enjoyment of our property, though this is not quite the same as a right to peace. The right to quiet enjoyment is one that stems directly from ownership, or exclusive possession, of the land affected by the noise.

It is not considered to be affected by any level of personal discomfort or distress that may have been caused by the noise.

A remedy for personal injury or distress that has been suffered as a consequence of the nuisance will only be available if you can prove all the elements of negligence. A claim for negligence may be pursued as part of the same action, but separate and more complicated criteria will have to be proved.

So what remedies are available in relation to noise nuisance and its effect on enjoyment of your property? The basic common law remedy is abatement, which is almost an exception to the rule that a person should not take the law into his or her own hands.

In theory, the party affected by the noise has a right to enter and put a stop to the nuisance. In realistic terms, however, the abator is taking the risk of being held liable for trespass or maybe even being found guilty of a criminal offence such as criminal damage. For these reasons, abatement, albeit a legal remedy, is not a very practical one.

In most cases, the first viable step is to go to one’s local council. It has the power to take lawful and effective steps to stop the nuisance, and is obliged to do so at no cost. In fact, every authority has a duty to inspect for statutory nuisances, which include some excessive noises, and to take reasonable steps to investigate any complaints made.

Abatement Notice

If the local authority is satisfied that there is, or probably will be, a statutory nuisance, it must serve an abatement notice imposing restrictions or requirements on the person responsible.

Or, if the person responsible cannot be found, the notice should be served on the owner or occupier of the premises, or stuck on the vehicle or machinery that is emitting the noise. The abatement notice may be appealed in the magistrates’ court. Failure to comply with a notice is an offence. However, the local authority may then do whatever is necessary to stop the nuisance.

In some circumstances, the right to quiet enjoyment of your property may be reduced by an event or act that has been allowed by the local authority,

such as with the earlier examples of funfairs and rock festivals. To approach the council in such cases might seem futile, and to attempt to personally abate the nuisance might well be dangerous as well as unrealistic. However, if you do have the right to quiet enjoyment of the property, and that enjoyment is being diminished by a noise nuisance, the fact that the generators of the noise have obtained permission from the council does not mean that you have no remedy.

It would seem that the courts are reluctant to abolish private rights to enjoy our land, especially in the light of administrative decisions being as difficult to challenge as they are.

In these instances, an application may be made to the court for an injunction to put a permanent stop to the threat to your enjoyment of your property. At the same time, an interim injunction would usually be sought to ensure that the nuisance is brought to a halt as soon as possible.

In cases when you want compensation, damages can be claimed. The damages would be assessed by putting a value on the diminution of the value of your property due to the noise, or by putting a value on the reduction in your ability to quietly enjoy your property. For example, you could sue for the value of the incessant interruption of lazy summer afternoons in your own back garden. What you would not be able to claim for, however, is the fact that you’ve been driven half-insane by the noise.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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