Noise from neighbours is a common source of nuisance and can be very disruptive. It can be a particular problem for those living in flats, and not all neighbour noise constitutes a statutory nuisance covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Whilst councils are responsible for looking into complaints about, for example, constant loud music, barking dogs, noise from machinery or intruder alarms, they are unable to assist where the noise complained of constitutes everyday living that intrudes on other occupiers on account of poor sound insulation.
In a recent case, a judge awarded a woman a six-figure sum in compensation after she sued upstairs neighbours over what she described as intolerable noise levels.
The woman claimed that she and her mother, with whom she lived, had been subjected to a constant bombardment of noise emanating from the flat above her own £2.6 million apartment. Her complaints focused on modifications – particularly the installation of new wooden flooring – made to the top-floor flat after her neighbours, a couple with three young children, acquired it through a corporate vehicle.
The neighbours claimed that the woman was 'hypersensitive' to the sound of normal family activity.
The judge found that much of the noise audible in the woman's apartment was associated with day-to-day living – such as her neighbours' children playing and running around, dishes being washed late at night, and sounds from their boiler, fridge, taps and fireplace. Whilst there was also noise from late-night parties, these were not frequent.
It emerged that when the floor in the upstairs flat was replaced, nothing had been done to limit noise transmission into the apartment below. The new floor had been installed without the authority of the block's freeholder and the removal of carpets from some living areas also amounted to a breach of the neighbours' lease.
The judge awarded the woman £107,397 in damages on the ground that the overall noise levels were sufficiently loud to be invasive and disturbing to an objective standard. The noise was a constant presence in the lives of the woman and her mother and had caused them distress.
The judge also issued an injunction against the couple and their company, ordering them to carry out work on the floors in the flat to significantly reduce noise levels in the apartment below. He also ordered that the amount of compensation payable be increased at a daily rate of £40.18 until those works were completed.