21 Jun 2023

Noisy neighbours

Balmy summer evenings: birdsong; the clink of glasses; the barely audible sound of gentle conversation from the neighbouring garden. How many of us can honestly say that this is our experience of hot summer nights? As the temperature goes up, we all tend to gravitate outdoors – to gardens, patios, balconies. The light fades late in the evening, the temperature is optimal, and we live outdoors: eating, drinking, chatting, listening to music al fresco. This all sounds delightful, but it can all too easily get out of hand. We fantasise about civilised co-existence, but often we're faced with a barrage of noise at anti-social hours.

Noise carries at night in still gardens. Loud conversation and music late at night robs us of our sleep and frays our nerves. Early birds can be equally disturbing: if you’re looking forward to a Sunday morning lie-in and your neighbour is an enthusiastic gardener, who’s up with the lark and thinks nothing of powering up the mower at 8am, you will also have cause for complaint.

Being good neighbours in winter is so much easier. We huddle indoors and sound is muffled and inaudible. Summer, on the other hand, is a challenge.

If you are beginning to feel plagued by noisy neighbours, think carefully about their transgressions. If they choose to eat outside, chat and play music on warm summer evenings, but regularly turn in by midnight, you may have to accept that it is their right to do so, and you must learn to live with it. Your neighbours may very well not share your ideas about the outdoor lifestyle. They may have an entirely different taste in music, noisy children who tear around the garden when they get back from school, a barking dog, or a regular visitor with a particularly shrill and penetrating laugh. But can you honestly say these are major social transgressions? We all must accept, when we live in a community, that harmony will only be maintained if we are tolerant and prepared to make concessions. If we lay down the law, and insist that everyone complies with our lifestyle choices, we will inevitably cause conflict.

Broadly speaking, we all need to accept various parameters. Most people work during the day and their children go to school. This means that, on weekdays, they need to get up reasonably early in the morning. Keeping people awake after midnight is therefore inevitably going to be unpopular. Weekends are a different proposition, and probably require greater reserves of tolerance and flexibility. However, repeated and regular noisy weekend parties, which come around with grim regularity, are also beyond the pale. If your neighbour’s music is regularly played late at night at loud volume (especially if the bass is amplified) and the outdoors socialising often extends into the early hours of the morning, then you have a legitimate grievance.

If you’re beginning to feel troubled by noise, remind yourself of all these considerations and think carefully about whether an objective observer would find your complaints reasonable. If you think this is the case, begin to keep a note of noise transgressions and assess whether they are tipping into the intolerable category. If that is the case, your first course of action is to speak to the neighbour.

Try your hardest not to charge around to your neighbour’s front door when you’re in a lather of rage and frustration. You will inevitably enter the fray with all guns blazing and may well make the situation worse. If possible, try and engineer an ‘accidental’ encounter with your neighbour. Chat about how lovely the weather has been, compare notes about how much you’re enjoying the summer. Then, when everything is reasonably harmonious, try to gently point out the problem. Say something like “I know how much you love sitting out in the evenings, but the music and conversation gets very loud and we’re having real problems sleeping. Do you think you’d be able to call a halt by 11 on weekdays? We’d be so grateful.” With any luck, your neighbour will feel mortified by the fact that you’ve been forced to complain, and disarmed by your extremely polite and sympathetic approach, and will do what you ask.  If they do what you ask, acknowledge it. When you next meet them say, “by the way, I’m so grateful to you for keeping the noise down. We really do appreciate it.”

Of course, this may well not be the case. You may have an intractable and aggressive neighbour, or your latest complaint may just be one in a long stream of problems. Your neighbour may find your request absurdly over-demanding in the circumstances. For whatever reason, they may decide to dig in, ignore your pleas, and even up the ante by tweaking up the volume and prolonging their evenings outside. You may suffer a serious deterioration in relations as a result.

If that is the case and you feel you really cannot handle the situation, the next step is to write to your local council and outline your complaint. Councils are prepared to take any complaints of noise nuisance between the hours of 11pm–7am seriously. Bear in mind that councils will only tend to investigate recurring noise nuisance, so it’s no use going down this route because of just one loud party. The council may ask you to keep a diary of the issue, so if you’ve been noting down problematic occasions that may well be useful.

It’s easy to feel victimised by other people’s noise, but remember that you can also be a perpetrator, so look at your own behaviour and try to be as considerate as possible. Think about your neighbours, keep your eye on the time, and be aware that – if the clock is ticking towards midnight – you should call it a night and take yourself, your friends, and your music indoors. Be considerate about DIY and loud machine noise early in the mornings, especially at weekends. Make it a rule that, whenever you’re about to make a loud noise, you pause for a moment and think about the impact on the people around you.

Finally, if you’re entertaining in your garden or patio and you know that proceedings are likely to be noisy and spill over beyond the midnight cut-off, politely warn your neighbours. Ideally, invite them (especially if it is a big garden party), as this is the perfect way of diffusing any disputes. But if you’re not able to do that, have the courtesy to go round and apologise for any disturbance in advance.


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