By Marli Naidoo
As far as noise is concerned, there is uncertainty about what is acceptable or even legal. May I have a party, may my dog bark, may I weld or drill on a Saturday morning, may my children laugh and shout outside?
The legal principle is that one is allowed to use and enjoy one’s property freely, provided that you do not infringe upon the rights of your neighbours. Our judges have accepted the point of view that some discomfort, inconvenience and nuisance have to be tolerated.
The law divides noise into two groups: disturbing noise and nuisance noise. Disturbing noise is usually regulated by municipal by-laws. If your children are still listening to loud music at 85 decibels at 22:00 on a Friday or Saturday night and your neighbours have already asked them to turn down their music, it is regarded as disturbing music. Your neighbours then have the full might of the law on their side and you can expect the police to pay you a visit.
A noise nuisance, however, is more subjective and will be observed over a longer period. It is defined as noise that could disturb or impair somebody’s peace or quiet. It could be dogs that bark continuously, the rumbling of machinery, or any similar penetrating sound that other people may find intolerable. This could also include the playing of a musical instrument, shouting or the slamming of doors, a noisy car and the firing of fireworks.
If you are guilty of nuisance noise and refuse to be accommodating, your neighbour can lay a formal written charge with your local authority. They will investigate the matter to determine the seriousness of the situation. If necessary they will ask you to reduce the noise. Should you then decide to ignore the request, you may be fined. In serious cases equipment may be confiscated.
Should you persist with your noise, your neighbours may either apply for an interdict that will prohibit you from continuing with the specific noise, or sue you for damages for the suffering they have to endure because of your noise.
However, the court will always make sure that the noise is indeed intolerable and that the plaintiff is really being negatively affected by your noise. An investigation must find that the noise really impairs your neighbours’ enjoyment of their property.
You, however, must also know that should you be causing your neighbours damage and refuse to stop it, you may be fined R20 000 and even sentenced to imprisonment of up to two years.
Neighbours should allow each other pleasure and comfort without being wilful and selfish. Therefore, keep your side clean, do not expect your neighbours to make no noise (because the court will not either) and keep the communication channels between you open.