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Laws and rules surrounding nuisance

A statutory nuisance can be described as a situation which is having a material effect on the way in which you live at your property. It usually has to be affecting lifestyle or enjoyment in a serious way and must either be very severe, frequent or prolonged. If you wish to make a complaint about a nuisance, your complaint will be assessed in terms of its effect upon an average reasonable person. It would be unrealistic to expect people not to cause the occasional annoyance. We are unable to investigate anonymous complaints.

A noise can cause a statutory nuisance at any time of the day or night. There is no set time or set level/volume laid down by law. Unfortunately though, things are not as simple as that. It really is a question of what is 'reasonable' behaviour. It is unrealistic to expect silence all the time. When investigating noise complaints, the location, time and noise level are just some of the things that are taken into account by the investigating Officer. But as a general rule, noise at night is more disturbing and more likely to be a statutory nuisance than daytime noise.

We are normally unable to take action in relation to general living noise such as footsteps, flushing toilets, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, moving furniture, general talking, and children playing/crying. This is because it is not unreasonable for a person to use the space within which they live to carry out any of the normal everyday tasks and activities. We are also unable to deal with complaints of very short term, irregular, unpredictable noise, for example door slamming.

We have a legal duty under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to investigate complaints of nuisance from domestic, commercial and industrial sources. It is our policy that complaints about nuisance arising from premises should be dealt with informally whenever possible and that legal action should only be taken in cases where it is unavoidable.

How we investigate complaints

If you would like us to investigate a nuisance problem you will need to contact the Environmental Protection Team and make a formal complaint. On making a complaint you will need to provide your contact details, details of the nuisance and its source, the person(s) concerned and any other relevant information that you may have.

A letter will be sent to the person(s) alleged to be causing the nuisance to let them know that a complaint has been received and asking them to ensure that the disturbance does not happen again. You will be sent an information pack and diary sheet which you should start to complete straight away. The diary enables an Officer to get an idea of how severe the problem is and therefore what priority to give it. It will indicate the best time for an Officer to visit to witness the nuisance or install monitoring equipment. Diary sheets are also very important because they can be used in Court as part of your evidence if legal proceedings were to be taken for your case.

If the nuisance is on-going, continue to make notes on the diary sheet and return it to be assessed when you have three weeks of entries. If you feel the problem is too serious to wait for three weeks, please contact us and an Officer may be able to arrange an earlier visit or other action.

We do not operate an out-of-hours nuisance service. If you have a serious problem out of normal working hours please contact us as soon as possible the following working day.

Records of any conversations you have had with the person(s) causing you the problem and letters sent or received should be kept. We may wish to see such correspondence; this will be returned to you.

On receipt of your diary sheet, an Officer will decide on the most appropriate course of action, this may be visits to your property to witness the nuisance or installing noise monitoring equipment. If a statutory nuisance has not been established after installing noise monitoring equipment twice or by the second Officer visit, this will mean the end of the investigation.

We can only take formal action if the problem is determined to be a statutory nuisance. An Abatement Notice will be served on the person responsible or the owner of the property, requiring them to abate the nuisance.

If the Notice is ignored, prosecution may follow with a fine of up to £5,000 for nuisance from domestic properties, or up to £20,000 where commercial or industrial premises are involved.

You may be asked to provide a Witness Statement for use in Court should your complaint proceed to this stage. If you are not prepared to give a statement it is unlikely that we will be able to take formal action.

If, following investigation of the nuisance, formal action cannot be taken by us then you may wish to consider taking legal action yourself.

During an investigation your details cannot be revealed without your permission under the Data Protection Act 1998. However, if the case reaches the stage of going to Court and a statement is required from you to support any action taken by us your details can no longer be kept confidential.

If the problem is resolved before the investigation is concluded, please let us know.

What else you can try

In many cases the noise maker may not even be aware of the disturbance that they may be causing. Discuss the problem with them if you feel it is appropriate and safe to do so and try to come to a common understanding.

Contact the Somerset Mediation Service on 01823 352210. They may be able to help both parties reach an agreement.

You can complain about a noise nuisance problem direct to the Magistrates Court and take your own action under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. You may want to seek the advice of a solicitor and/or the Citizen's Advice Bureau before you do this.