We all live in a world of noise.  Our cities reverberate with the cacophony of urban development, construction and traffic – music filtering from bars and restaurants, ringtones, taxis hooting, dogs barking and people shouting.  Whilst some noise is tolerable there are instances where it becomes a nuisance or is disturbing; where it intrudes on our daily lives and can cause conflict between those who are generating it and those who have to listen to it.

There has been a drive in recent years to change the character of the inner city.  Commercial premises have been converted into apartment buildings and mixed-use developments have become very much a part of the growing urban landscape in South Africa, altering the way in which we live and work.   As a result, the person setting up home in a city space cannot expect the peace and quiet found in the suburbs.

All citizens are generally permitted in common law to use their properties for the purpose they choose, provided that the use of the property does not intrude unreasonably on the use and enjoyment of their neighbours.   In terms of the Noise Control Regulations as defined under the Environment Conservation Act of 73 of 1989, no person shall make or allow to be made a disturbing noise.

The definition of a disturbing noise refers to noise which exceeds the ambient sound level measured continuously at the same measuring point by seven decibels or more.   By contrast there is also a reference in the regulations to a ‘noise nuisance’ which is defined as ‘sound which disturbs or impairs or may disturb or impair the convenience or peace of any person’.

“There are legal remedies for excessive noise, but in determining whether a noise nuisance exists, a ‘reasonable person’ must find a particular noise intolerable or seriously affecting the enjoyment of his/her property, before pursuing legal action,”  says PJ Veldhuizen, MD of commercial law firm, Gillan & Veldhuizen Inc.

People living and working in urban areas would reasonably be expected to be more tolerant about a higher level of noise than those living in residential homes or housing estates he adds.

If you want to make a noise about a noise that’s disturbing you or is becoming a nuisance then take a quiet moment before lodging a complaint or going the legal route.  First prize is talking it out and coming to a compromise that works for both parties.   If that fails and you want to take it further, consider where you live – your surroundings, and decide whether the complaint is in fact reasonable, and/or is in contravention of the law or any municipal by-laws.

Remember the appointment of an accredited commercial mediator may be an option before going to the expense of litigation.