Noise can be the cause of numerous disputes – particularly among those living in strata titled units or townhouses. But where does the law stand when it comes to resolving these most common of complaints?
One of the most contentious issues faced by those living in strata accommodation is the close proximity of neighbours and your exposure to their choice in lifestyle.
With different buildings built to differing standards, a lack of insulation between floors or common walls can mean your home is regularly polluted by all manner of sounds not of your making.
While it varies from state to state under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO) relevant to those living in NSW, the definition of noise includes both sound and vibration.
Whether prompted by pet or human interaction, or industrial-type sounds such as those caused by dripping pipes, frequent exposure to noise has been linked to sleep deprivation, annoyance and even health issues such as hypertension and heart disease.
Rolf Howard, a managing partner with Sydney legal firm Owen Hodge, says while common complaints such as barking dogs, noisy parties and loud music are easily associated with a particular resident, this is not always the case.
Because strata buildings also attract noise problems which are not directly associated with any individual resident, such as air-conditioning units, car alarms or elevator movements, it can be difficult to distinguish between what is considered “reasonable” expected noise and “excessive” noise causing nuisance to others.
From a legal perspective the difference is ultimately decided by the owner’s corporation and through the creation of by-laws.
Howard says that if someone in your building is breaching the by-laws, fellow residents have a number of options available to them to help resolve the issue.
The easiest and usually most effective response is to be polite and address the issue with the offending neighbour directly, he says.
“In some cases they may not even be aware of how loud they are being. Agreements can be made that will benefit both parties and help to avoid the issue becoming larger than it needs to be.”
In the event this doesn’t solve the problem, your next step should be to look up your building’s by-laws.
Landlords or the property manager must supply these laws to you within 14 days of moving in. If you have not received them, they are kept in the strata roll which is available from either the secretary of the Owners Corporation or from your managing agent.
Howard says if you find that there is a breach of the by-laws then residents then have the option to ask either the secretary of the Owners Corporation or their strata manager to issue a notice to comply with a by-law to the offender.
If the noise continues after the notice has been issued then the Owners Corporation can apply to the tribunal to impose a penalty, he says.
If the occupier breaches the by-law again in the next 12 months, then additional fines can be issued without a notice to comply.
Most environmental protection agencies in each state, including the Environment Protection Authority Victoria, the Queensland Department of Environment & Science, Environment Protection Authority South Australia and the Department of Water & Environmental Pollution Western Australia will have a page on their website expressly dedicated to neighbourhood noise.
When the issue of noise pollution within a strata community is a frequent occurrence the authority will usually suggest contacting either a free government-funded Community Justice Centre that specialises in settling differences between neighbours through mediation or contacting your local council, which under the Act, councils can serve prevention notices on residents and business people requiring them to control offensive noise.
Police and council officers can also direct offenders to stop unreasonable noise. A direction can remain in force for up to 72 hours. In most cases, failure to comply with a police or council direction is an offence and offenders are liable for on-the-spot fines.
Similarly, if your neighbour is continually being noisy, has a noisy animal or is using noisy appliances, and you decide to take action independently, the Act allows you to seek a noise abatement order that if breached can involve heavy penalties for the person accused of making the noise.