Noise can be a contentious issue in suburbia. One person’s fun party or immersive home cinema can be another person’s interrupted sleep or uncomfortable evening. Endlessly barking dogs, next door’s loud dryer, nearby construction, main road traffic, low-flying planes, entertainment venues… The sources of noise are everywhere, and they affect everyone differently. Officially, noise levels below 70dB are often deemed acceptable depending on the time of day, but as research and studies show, high levels of constant nuisance noise — no matter the decibels — can lead to real physical and mental health issues, from insomnia to hypertension. After opening a dialogue and trying to find a diplomatic solution whenever possible, submitting a noise complaint to your local council is one of the few ways you have of addressing these problems; but the governance process can be confusing. Let’s have a look at how Australians can lodge effective noise complaints with their councils.
Step Zero: Talk to the Person Causing the Noise
Before submitting an official complaint with your council that can lead to fines or worse, it’s a good idea to be open and honest with your neighbours about how their noise production is affecting you and your family. It’s likely that they’re unaware their noise is impacting those around them, and a simple conversation can resolve the issue immediately — or if it’s something that’s hard to control, like a crying infant, you can still come to an amicable understanding. If dialogue dissolves or isn’t an option, that’s the point when you can contact an authority.
Of course, many noise issues aren’t caused by neighbours. If your home is near a busy main road, under a low flight path, or some construction has suddenly begun nearby, there are more official paths and procedures that need to be followed in order to reduce that noise.
Step One: Contact Your Council
Your local council’s website is your first stop in submitting your noise complaint. There, you can find the precise details on how to lodge a complaint, what materials and evidence you’ll need, and which department or adjacent government body to direct your complaint towards. For example, if complaining about a short-term event like a rowdy party next door, you’ll likely be pointed towards the police rather than the council, who have different authorities. If you’re still unsure of what you need to do, your council will have a 24-hour contact number that can direct you to the right place.
Local councils are allowed to serve legally-binding complaint notices to the owners/occupiers of homes and businesses on your behalf. These notices will outline the problem and a proposed solution, and a timeframe in which the solution must happen. This can include restrictions on the timing of particular noises during the day (e.g. no mowing the lawn before 7am), or what is and isn’t allowed to make noise (e.g. the homeowner must replace a loud pool pump). The noticee is able to appeal a notice if they disagree, though they will likely need to seek legal counsel in doing so and the process can be lengthy. If the noticee does not comply with the notice within the council’s specified time frame, the council can issue a fine or even prosecute them.
Alternatively, a similar process can be done without the council: you can instead hire a lawyer to draft a noise abatement notice, which functions similarly to the council’s complaint notices. These are enforced through the court system rather than the council and are likely to resolve a little faster, but you will need to pay an administrative fee and cover the expenses of hiring a lawyer.
Before a notice is issued, however, you will need to provide sufficient evidence.
Step Two: Evidence & Reporting
Upon making your first complaint to your local council, you’ll be asked to provide your own details, as well as the date, time, and source address of the noise.
Then you’ll likely be pointed towards a printable “diary” in which you must regularly document the source, duration, and personal impact of the noise you’re complaining about. Having this written evidence allows the council to take more effective action in resolving the issue. If you are able, it’s a good idea to gather more evidence than just the diary allows for. Making an audio recording or decibel measurement is the ideal form of evidence for noise complaints — you just need to be sure it’s deliverable to the council in a way that they can easily access and file away, such as email. Additionally, you may need to provide a statutory declaration asserting that the information you provided is true. Your council website will have details outlining the exact nature of what evidence you can provide.
From there, if the noise is ongoing, you can submit a second complaint, whereupon the notices detailed above will likely be dispatched. Should more evidence be needed, a council officer may come to assess the noise. Similarly, if you’re making a complaint about a construction site or entertainment venue operating outside allowed hours, your complaint will be addressed by immediately dispatching a council officer to the location of the noise, who can properly liaise with the appropriate regulatory body. These officers are able to issue infringement notices, on-the-spot fines, or establish prolonged noise monitoring devices to gather further evidence if needed.
Noise affects everyone differently, and we can’t know the impact we’re having on our neighbours until we’re made aware of it. But there are proven harmful consequences to low-term noise exposure, and you shouldn’t have to fork out for some high-end noise-cancelling headphones to enjoy your home in peace. While peaceful discussion is the ideal way to resolve excessive urban noise impacting your life, official noise complaints are one of the most effective ways residents have to exercise their right to a peaceful existence within their home.