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How to deal with noisy neighbours

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03 Jan 2013

Most South Africans live in a world filled with noise pollution,traffic, airplanes and construction work. For the most part people put up with it, except when it’s unnecessary, according to Bruce Swain, managing director of Leapfrog.

A neighbour’s barking dog or a party down the street with blaring music is enough to start a feud. This is possibly because your home is supposed to be a haven, not a trap in which you are harassed with intrusive noise.

The urban myth says you can make noise until 10pm on a week night and 12pm on a weekend but, in actual fact most municipalities have by-laws that focus on the number of decibels rendered than the actual time frame in which they are created.

The Durban Metropolitan Area uses guidelines to determine acceptable noise levels (as quoted in a Cities Environment Reports on the Internet report).

The Durban Metropolitan Area  guidelines to determine acceptable noise levels.

The figures indicate the number of decibels that would constitute acceptable noise levels in the areas under certain circumstances.  The World Bank has stipulated such a guideline which indicates that the maximum allowable ambient noise levels in a residential area are 55 decibels during the day and 45 at night.

The question then becomes, how loud is 40 decibels?  The City of Tshwane’s Noise Management Policy document gives comparisons such as 25 - 30 decibels being akin to the quiet rustling of leaves while 35 - 46 decibels equates an average suburban home during night time. 50 decibels is equal to an average suburban home during the day time while 70 decibels would be a blaring radio and  85-100 decibels would be the inside of a disco on a Saturday night.

You should always try and resolve the issue amicably if your neighbour is being noisy, and then move to more drastic measures if they continue.

Looking at these guidelines and examples, it’s easy to see that anything beyond average household noise can be viewed as infringement on a neighbour’s right to peace and quiet, regardless of the time frame it occurs in.

Swain says generally, people don't make undue noise but during festive periods people can become noisier as they celebrate, but most people keep the noise to a manageable level and duration.

Swain explains there are steps one can take should a neighbour not amend his or her behaviour. The first step, is to try to resolve the issue amicably.

"If this doesn’t work, a letter can be drafted by all the affected parties in the area and handed over to the noisy neighbour and if both of these remedies fail the police can be called in."

At first the police would most likely just issue a warning but, should calls persist, a summons or a ticket can be issued.

According to the Environment Conservation Act 73 of 1989, fines of R500 and R1 000 can be issued. Should these steps fail to stop the noise, it is possible to sue the person in question in a small claims court.

Roy Bergman, proprietor of Bergman’s Attorneys in Johannesburg says one would have to gather evidence and sign affidavits, as only the cases that seem provable will likely make it on to the backed-up court rolls.

When it comes to barking dogs the procedure is much the same, except in Cape Town.

The Mother City has created Animal By-Law 2009, Chapter Two: Dogs, Section 5 which states that owners may not “keep any dog which barks for more than six minutes in any hour or more than three minutes in any half hour” or “keep any dog which – by barking, yelping, howling or whining causes a disturbance or nuisance to inhabitants of the neighbourhood.”

“While I understand the intention behind the writing of this by-law I’m at a loss as to how the city could possibly enforce it.

“That being said,  this can certainly make life difficult for people whose dogs bark excessively," says Swain.

Officers are authorised to issue fines of up to R1 000 or, if the problem persists to approach magistrates and have the animals impounded.

Dog owners in Johannesburg can breathe easy as there are currently no plans to implement a similar strategy but, there is a system in place where a dog owner can be issued with a warning letter, he adds.

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