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The Nightmare of Noisy Neighbours


The Nightmare of Noisy Neighbours

In this our second in the series on people, property and problems, we look at the issue of noisy neighbours. We have all had the experience of the neighbour who likes to DIY on a Sunday morning with his noisy drill or the couple who are away most weekends leaving dogs to bark incessantly or the family with teens who love a good party with a pounding bass beat. This piece is to let you know that the law and the City of Cape Town are on your side and when and how to use the provisions for complaining about noise.


Noise in South Africa is regulated not only by Section 9 of the Noise Control Regulations but also by a body of common and case law, Section 36 of our Constitution and an array of Municipal by-laws. The law draws a distinction between two types of noise: Disturbing Noise and Noise Nuisance.


Disturbing Noise is noise that occurs in or is audible in any public space and is objectively determined and scientifically measurable in decibels. It is regulated by municipal by-laws and would typically be noise from an event, for example the Sun Met at Kenilworth Racecourse or the Two Oceans Marathon. It also includes live music events at restaurants or bars, nightclubs, industrial noise, church bells & singing and even generators, an important consideration when days are dark due to load shedding. This type of noise is not restricted by time periods but by decibel output and may not exceed legal noise limits. Any complaint about noise nuisance will result in the noise being subject to a decibel reading before any decision about control can be made. We recall when a group of neighbours in Kalk Bay complained about the noise emanating from the live music events at the Brass Bell Restaurant and Bar. The City conducted a series of decibel recordings over a period of time and the conclusion was that the waves crashing against the shore were louder than the live music and ultimately the complaint failed.


Noise Nuisance on the other hand is subjective and disturbing to our peace. Examples of noise nuisance include barking dogs, televisions or music played loudly, neighbours arguing, children screaming, noisy vehicles and building noise. Although it is subjectively determined i.e. how does the noise affect you personally, the test is one of objective reasonableness. For example, if you buy a property next door to a school, it would not be reasonable for you to complain about children making a noise each time the school holds a gala or sports day or musical event. Unlike noise disturbance, noise nuisance is not repetitive or constant but still exceeds the amount of noise allowed during the times regulated by the City


Building noise can be either disturbing or a nuisance and the City of Cape Town has given it special consideration on the City's website on the Report Noise page. While there are no limits on the hours that can be worked on any building site, there is a limit on excessive building noise that may "unreasonably disturb or interfere with the amenity of the neighbourhood. There are limits on the hours for such noise from Monday to Saturday and no such noise on Sundays and Public Holidays unless the work is emergency work essential to protect life or property or is work by or for any public authority or has been authorised by the local authority. Typically, such work would include work on burst water pipes or sewage pipes or essential road repairs.


The City of Cape Town has a comprehensive guide to what constitutes problematic noise in each of the categories above and has a useful guideline on how to appropriately report noise complaints on the City's website and you will find a handy list of phone numbers as well as the procedure for reporting on the e-services portal. We have found that the City responds most promptly on the online fault reporting system. Should there be no cessation of noise even with the involvement of the City, the next step is to employ an attorney and seek an interdict. This is always expensive and most often used by a group of neighbours in a situation of noise disturbance.


There is a saying that "nothing makes you more tolerant of a neighbour's noisy party than being there" and while there is truth in that, it is certainly helpful to be considerate when hosting a party or embarking on building work to give notice to neighbours with a note in the post box or a message on the neighbourhood Whatsapp group. And to be accommodating to neighbours who are celebrating special occasions or doing renovations. But for when neighbours are relentlessly inconsiderate, the City is on our side.

Author Bronwen Woodward
Published 24 Feb 2020 / Views -
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