It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that almost everyone has had an issue with a noisy neighbour at some point in life, whether it’s a one-time occurrence, like a bit of drilling in the early hours of the morning or a consistent ordeal, like loud parties that persist all night. It’s almost unavoidable as the houses and apartment blocks in most residential areas are closely packed. And with that kind of proximity, the walls or fencing separating you and your neighbours aren’t always enough to keep the peace. So, if you find yourself in this kind of situation, and wonder what the best way is to deal with noisy neighbours in South Africa, here’s the legal advice you need!

Your friendly neighbourhood laws: noise or nuisance 

In our country, the law- specifically The Environment Conservation Act 73 of 1989 mentions two kinds of auditory disturbances.

The first is a “disturbing noise”- this can be determined “objectively” as it is a noise that can be scientifically measured in decibels. Municipal by-laws mostly govern this. An example of this would be if a neighbour operates loud machinery throughout the night, the disturbance would be determined by how loud a sound the machinery makes is, and not necessarily what time it is being operated. 

The other is a “noise nuisance”, which is subjectively measured and described as any noise that disturbs or impairs the convenience or peace of any person. This kind of disturbance is usually something that is frequent and happens over a long period. Examples of this would be:

  • operating a vehicle or machine that makes constant loud noises;
  • driving a loud car on a public road;
  • having a dog that barks loudly and constantly;
  • playing a musical instrument loudly;
  • entertainment (music or television) that is very loud;
  • screaming or talking loudly;
  • discharging fireworks in a residential area

Keeping the suburban bliss: talking it out.

So, now that you have some context and information to work with, you may be wondering what the next step to deal with a noisy neighbour. The answer, of course, is to try and resolve the matter as amicably as possible by talking it out. Yes, when it comes to keeping the peace, the direct and respectful way should always be your first option. In many cases, a neighbour may not know that they are causing any noise-related issues.

Tips for approaching your neighbour about a noise complaint:

1. Have a chat

Approach your neighbour and ask them if you can have a discussion with them about your concerns. If they can’t do it immediately, agree on a convenient time (you could even invite them over for a coffee, just to show you have no ill-intent).

2. Stay calm

It’s probably not the best idea to approach your neighbour in the heat of the moment, as you do not want to come across as angry or disgruntled. Instead, wait until you have calmed down. Many people respond to aggression with some level of pettiness, and your neighbour may continue with their disruptive behaviour just to irk you more!

3. Keep it face-to-face 

While you may want to break the ice with a note to your neighbour in their mailbox or under their door, this could come across as a passive-aggressive. So, to make sure there is no misunderstanding about your demeanour, try and have one-on-one interaction. However, if they refuse to have a chat with you, then delivering a written note could help prove that you tried to resolve the matter.

Hitting a dead-end: how to legally deal with a noisy neighbour in South Africa

Of course, if the direct, face-to-face approach is unsuccessful, you do have legal options to consider.  

  1. The first one can still help solve the issue in an amicable manner. Consider appointing a mediator to facilitate a session to resolve the dispute. This approach is still on the civil side of things. 
  2. Should the neighbourly way not yield any results, you are within your legal rights to lay a complaint with the authorities via a written statement. After assessing the information, a law enforcement official will investigate the issue further to see to what extent the noise/nuisance is disruptive and possibly illegal. If so, they will inform your neighbour to reduce the noise, and if the issue persists, the official can issue a fine or- in very extreme instances- confiscate the equipment responsible for the noise.
  3. If for some reason, all attempts to resolve the matter fails, you can ask a lawyer to write to your neighbour and ask them to desist.  Should that not work, your lawyer can apply for an interdict to stop the noise.

The court will take the following into account: the type of noise, how often it occurs, where it comes from and what’s been done to try and resolve it. You will also have to inform that court how the noise has negatively impacted your life, health, comfort and general well-being.

What happens if a neighbour ignores a court interdict for being noisy?

Should your neighbour ignore the court interdict and not change their disruptive ways, they may be found guilty of contempt of court. This could result in a fine (up to R20 000) or jail time (up to two years). 

We’ve got your back against noisy neighbours!

Well, LAW FOR ALL wouldn’t be your friend in the law if we didn’t give you reliable and comprehensive legal advice. Afterall, you want to be empowered and know that after going through all that it takes to buy a house or rent a property you know what your options are for dealing with an issue you didn’t sign up for. Our professional mediators can assist you by mediating with a noisy neighbour.