The law

Residents have a legal right to be protected against statutory noise nuisance. A statutory nuisance is 'an unlawful interference with a person’s use or enjoyment of land or some right over, or in connection with it'.

Statutory Nuisance is defined by Part Three of the 1990 Environmental Protection Act. An Environmental Health officer decides whether a particular complaint meets the definition of a Statutory Nuisance. There is no maximum noise level set in law.

Defining Statutory Nuisance

Statutory nuisance is more than a mere annoyance and will have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of anyone affected. Some people may find a noise annoying, but it might not be a statutory nuisance in the eyes of the law, which doesn't define a specific noise level as a nuisance.

Noise is subjective; loud music being played from a detached property is unlikely to cause a nuisance, but same level of music in a block of flats is. Environmental Health Officers are qualified and trained to assess whether a noise is likely to be a statutory nuisance.  Individual sensitivities cannot be taken into account and officers must assess how the nuisance would affect the average person. 

See also: Noise terminology.

Legislation

The Noise and Nuisance team mainly uses sections of the acts below to assist its residents:

List of Statutory Nuisances

Part Three of the 1990 Environmental Protection Act has a list of nuisances to which abatement (reduction) procedures apply. These include the nine listed below:

  • any premises in such a state as to be harmful to health or a nuisance (see section 79(1)(a)). (for a speedier procedure to deal with defective premises, see BA 1984 see section76, FC18)
  • smoke coming from premises that is harmful to health or an nuisance; but this does not apply to: premises occupied by the Crown for military or Ministry of Defence purposes
  1. smoke coming from the chimney of a house within a smoke control area
  2. dark smoke from the chimney of a building or of a furnace attached to a building or installed on any land
  3. smoke from a railway locomotive steam engine
  4. dark smoke from any industrial or trade premises (see section 79(1)(b), (2) and (3))
  • fumes or gases coming from private dwellings that is harmful to health or a nuisance (see section 79(1)(c) and (4))
  • any dust, steam (other than from a railway locomotive engine), smell or other effluvia (ordorous fumes given off by waste) arising on industrial, trade or business premises that is harmful to health or a nuisance (see section 79(1)(d) and (5))
  • any accumulation or deposit which is harmful to health or a nuisance (see section 79(1)(f))
  • any animal kept a place or manner which is harmful to health or a nuisance (see section 79(1)(f))
  • noise (except that from aircraft other than model aircraft) coming from premises that is harmful to health or a nuisance; but this does not apply to Crown premises used for military or Ministry of Defence purposes (see section 79(1)(ga), (2) and (6) as amended)
  • noise that is harmful to health or a nuisance and comes from or caused by a vehicle, machinery or equipment in a street (other than noise made by traffic, by an military force or by political demonstration or a demonstration supporting or opposing a cause or campaign) (see section 79(1)(ga) and (6A)) - a number of issues need to be taken into account when judging whether a noise amounts to an actionable nuisance; they are listed below but nearly always need to be taken in combination:
  1. the time of the day - night-time noise that is likely to disturb sleep is much more likely to be actionable than daytime noise
  2. the duration of the noise - unpredictable sporadic noise has a greater capacity to create nuisance (subject of course to other factors listed here)
  3. the frequency of the noise – tonal content of noise e.g. a whine can significantly increase the capacity of a noise to create a nuisance
  4. whereabouts the noise is heard – noise (from a premises) audible in the street but not in a house is very unlikely to be an actionable nuisance (even if the noise is heard within a dwelling, if it only affects a bathroom or kitchen (not otherwise used as a living room), then action is unlikely)
  5. defendant’s motives – even an otherwise innocent act could be an actionable nuisance if it is done with malice although this can be very difficult to determine
  6. the character of the neighbourhood – where the background noise level is low for example in an entirely residential area, the threshold at which sound can be heard will be lower and noise is more likely to be at an actionable level
  7. continuous or repetitive incidents compared to isolated incidents and the time the nuisance occurs
  8. unusual sensitivity – 'The Eggshell Skull Rule': if a plaintiff is particularly sensitive to a particular type of noise, it is not actionable unless one can show that the noise would have affected a 'reasonable' person’s enjoyment of their property
  • any other matter declared by any act to be statutory nuisance (see section 79(1)(h) and these include:
  1. any well, tank, cistern or water butt used for the supply of water for domestic purposes which is so placed, constructed or kept in a way that makes the water liable to contamination and harmful to health (PHA 1936 section 141)
  2. any pond, pool, ditch, gutter or watercourse which is so foul or in such a state that it is harmful to health or a nuisance (PHA 1936 section 259(1)(a))
  3. any part of a watercourse, which is not ordinarily navigated by vessels used to carry goods by water, which is so choked or silted up that it obstructs or prevents the proper flow of water and as a result causes a nuisance or creates conditions which are harmful to health (PHA 1936 section. 259(1)(b))
  4. a tent, van, shed or similar structure used for human habitation
    1. which is in such a state, or so overcrowded, as to be harmful to the health of the people living in it, or
    2. the use of which, because of the absence of proper sanitary accommodation, or otherwise, can create whether on the site or on other land, a nuisance or to conditions which are harmful to health (PHA 1936 section 268(2))
  5. a shaft or outlet of  an abandoned or disused mine where:
    1. it is not properly secured in order to prevent people accidentally entering the outlet; or
    2. because it is accessibility from a road or public place it constitutes a danger to the public (M and QA 1954 section. 151)
  6. a quarry that does not have an efficient and properly maintained barrier designed and built to prevent people from accidentally falling into it and because it is accessible from a road or public place, amounts to a danger to the public (M and QA 1954 section 151)                                         

In carrying out the statutory nuisance procedures, Local Authorities can not deal with the radioactive state of any substance, article or premises. These matters come under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 (RSA 1993 section 40)