Maximum Permitted Noise Level
Contrary to popular belief there is no maximum permitted noise level that needs to be exceeded for noise to be categorised as a ‘nuisance’. Statutory nuisance legislation is routinely implemented and enforced by local authorities. Investigating officers will sometimes use sound level meters to help them assess nuisance but for most cases this sort of evidence is unnecessary and they will rely upon their experience and opinion. There are so many variables involved with noise disturbance issues that prevent a general acoustic limit being set.
How loud the noise is will be a crucial factor that must be taken into account by the investigating officer. He will make a determination based upon whether the level is reasonable bearing in mind the other variable factors involved in the circumstances (e.g. time of day and nature/character of the area you live in). Sometimes even very low level sound can be categorised as a nuisance, for example, if it is particularly irritating or causes loss of sleep.
However, separate legal provisions relating to night-time noise do provide powers to local authorities that enable officers to issue fixed penalty notices where noise exceeds a specified decibel limit (sound levels that exceed the background level by a set threshold) . The procedure involves a warning notice first and applies between the hours of 11pm and 7am. The warning letter can be served without actually measuring the sound but a breach of the warning must be confirmed by measuring the sound in a neighbouring property. There are different levels of fine applying to licensed premises (e.g. pubs and clubs) to residential domestic offenders.
Due to a number of difficulties in its application and use the ‘night-time noise’ provision is rarely used in practice though. In addition, because of limited local authority resources, many local authorities may not provide a night time response service by which to enforce the provisions.
In Scotland permitted decibel limits also apply to the daytime and evening hours (where the local authority have chosen to adopt the provisions).
You can learn more about statutory nuisance and how to make best use of the laws in our Knowledge Base.