Most people know what it’s like to be kept awake at night listening to loud music and the raspy voices of the revelers next door.
But for Jessica*, a mother-of-two and resident of an inner-city apartment, parties are all too common in her Sydney neighborhood.
Her neighbor often rents out her property for large-scale business parties and weddings in the summer.
“It has live bands, the street is littered with broken glass and red mugs. The noise is out of control,” she says.
When she moved into her property nearly a decade ago, she didn’t bother the occasional party.
But now that she and her partner have young children, things are more difficult. Sometimes they have to stay with their family over the weekend to get a good night’s rest.
“My daughter was crying because she couldn’t sleep, and she was like ‘why aren’t these people coming home’?”
“We have taken [the neighbour] to the council as it is not zoned for commercial parties. We called the rangers and they couldn’t stop the party because they can’t enter private property.
Although he has no commercial zoning and disrupts other neighbors, his neighbor still gets away with big events because he says they are for family or friends. And because the music stops at midnight, the police don’t shut them down.
When residential properties are used for commercial purposes parties and events, it can be more difficult to hold the organizers to account.
Jessica is so fed up that she considers legal options, but to no avail.
“He hired a lawyer and the council couldn’t afford to fight him. We’re stuck with his noise and his parties,” she says.
“A financial and emotional cost”
So what are your rights in neighborhood disputes over excessive noise?
Cinzia Donald, who is a partner at Perth’s Lavan Lawyers, has been involved in a number of court cases involving noise complaints.
“Everyone has the right to use and enjoy their property without that right being materially and unreasonably impaired,” she says. ABC RN Law Report.
Still, when things get out of control, she says it’s best to start with an amicable conversation before a dispute goes to court.
“If people are having ongoing parties and things of that nature, some people might find the need to call the local police,” she says.
“But if it’s this general, everyday noise generation that’s causing the frustration, often the first best thing to do is to have a conversation with the neighbor and see if you can actually work out a solution yourself.”
Sometimes neighbors are unaware of the impact of noise on others.
But if the neighbor is reluctant to help, there are other options, including contacting the county or local council.
“A lot of times it’s the people who come in and measure the noise and see if it violates noise regulations or not,” she says.
“And if so, they will often take steps to work with neighbors and try to reach a resolution.”
Check your local government’s websites to see if they offer this service, she says.
“And if that doesn’t work out, the next option might be to talk to a lawyer who could sue, but that might come at a financial and emotional cost,” she says.
Arriving at a resolution through the courts or a tribunal is not straightforward either.
“For someone to win a lawsuit to prevent noise interference, they have to prove that the noise had a material and unreasonable impact on them and their way of life,” she explains.
“They are also required to demonstrate the measures they have taken to try to limit the impact of noise.”
She says it’s important to remember that often these types of legal claims can take years to finalize and can result in significant legal costs that cannot be fully recovered, even if a claim is successful.
Sometimes the noise is not generated by another resident of your apartment complex or neighborhood, but by a local business.
Donald once acted on behalf of Perth’s famous Raffles Hotel after a local resident complained about noise coming from the beer garden.
The resident said the noise interrupted his ability to read and watch TV, and it left him so frustrated that he had to wear noise-canceling headphones to sleep at night.
However, the court found there was not an unreasonable and substantial level of interference with his rights, Donald says.
“If you live next to a hotel, there will be noise,” she says.
The court ruled in favor of the hotel, which had existed for more than 100 years, while the building was built over the past two decades.
Michael, who lives in Sydney’s inner city, believes entertainment districts need to be protected, even if that means putting up with excess noise.
“I live on a street in Kings Cross that has several late-night venues and restaurants, and that’s what drew me to the area,” he says.
“Obviously this means there will be unpredictable late night crowds, noise, traffic and music, but that is clearly what you would expect when moving to this street.
“Moving here and expecting the culture to adapt to you is naive at best and abhorrent and legitimate at worst.”
While councils can sometimes help with noisy neighbours, what happens when the local council is responsible for the noise?
Donald says there was a case in Perth where a man complained to the city council about their refuse trucks.
“Indeed [he] had been woken up at all hours of the night and morning because of the big garbage trucks picking up trash and making very loud crashing noises that woke him up,” she said.
In that case, the court found that the City of Perth could have taken additional steps to accommodate the residents. As a result, the town hall has changed the garbage collection schedules.
The last resort
Spare a thought for those who don’t do a typical nine-to-five job, says Kings Cross resident Michael.
“Those of us who work at night [such as] medicine, entertainment, shift workers, makes noise worst during sleep.
“For example, 8am garbage collection and heavy construction during the day. Yet we tolerate it with no problem and understand that it is the price of city center living.
He quotes a line from the classic Australian film The Castle: “Competing rights cannot be weighed against each other.”
“Either we all have them or none of us have them. And I don’t remember giving anyone on my street the right to be quiet whenever they wanted, and that’s not the one that I expect it to be granted to me,” he said.
“I understand that this is not how the law works when it comes to disruptive noise, but I also believe that legal intervention is an absolute last resort when common sense fails.”
If you do take legal action, be prepared for things to get very uncomfortable for the neighbors, Donald says.
And sometimes it is very difficult to arbitrate a dispute after that.
“That’s why I would really encourage people if they have this problem to… try to see if they can solve it or not without having to resort to this option of getting legal advice and filing a lawsuit,” says- she.
*Names have been changed.
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