Poor Sound Insulation – A Possible Solution?
There have been few legal cases or appeals concerning the use of HHSRS with respect to noise issues so generally there are few established precedents concerning application of housing legislation in noise cases. However, it is generally accepted that the use of HHSRS is most likely to be invoked in the case of serious intrusion associated with poor insulation or transport noise (Note – it can not be used to tackle neighbour noise issues that are associated with unreasonable behaviour or nuisances). Transport noise could involve road, rail or aircraft noise.
With respect to excess neighbour noise caused by problems associated with poor insulation the established statutory nuisance legislation is generally not applied (by virtue of decisions set out in Southwark v Mills; and Vella v Lambeth). Standards of sound insulation in new buildings are served by Building Regulations Approved Document E (this lays down standards to protect against excess sound transmission between buildings). Therefore, most commonly, the application of HHSRS could be considered in the case of existing dwellings (most often flats and converted properties).
When assessing noise cases there would typically be an initial subjective assessment (witnessing) of noise by the local authority officer. If it is suspected that a noise may qualify for HHSRS assessment the officer should refer the matter to the appropriate officer for classification. They should conduct a physical inspection of the existing building structure and may make a determination of the current level of sound insulation (potentially through a sound insulation test). A determination of risk class is then made and decision as to whether enforcement action is appropriate.
The assessment is complicated. As well as the regulations (Housing Health and Safety Rating Scheme Regulations 2005) operating guidance and enforcement guidance is applied in order to determine the level of risk associated with the hazard. Once the deficiency is identified the risk of harm is assessed, scored, rated and classed.
Enforcement action might include the service of an improvement notice or hazard awareness notice (HAN). A HAN is simply a formal way of notifying a landlord that a hazard exists. Whilst a HAN might seem toothless it has been noted that many social landlords tend to take them seriously (by responding positively to them) due to their responsibilities to protect convention (human) rights and the possibility of civil claims.
QUESTIONS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PRACTITIONERS TO PONDER
- Do you dismiss complaints relating to transport noise without considering the application of housing legislation?
- Do you have a suitable system of referral from noise officers to housing officers in order that potential cases are assessed when it is suspected that noise complaints involve poor insulation?
- Will permitted development (relaxations to planning restrictions) lead to more use of HHSRS?
- Whilst building documents refer specifically to building to building sound transmission the same is not true for transport noise. Do you examine this hazard adequately when looking at new/potential development?