You are here: Buying a property - potential noise problems

With the size and density of our urban centres increasing all the time and the competition for building plots in towns and rural locations on the up and up, we all need to come to terms with living in a more crowded environment.  There are many social and practical advantages to living near to others, but there are some downsides too.  As the concentration of people, transport, industry, hospitality venues and just about everything else imaginable increases, more and more of us are feeling the effects.  Not just feeling them, but hearing them too.  More and more people are stating that noise is a major factor in their life and more and more often noise is mentioned as a negative aspect of the home environment.  Noise nuisance is particularly frustrating as it is usually beyond the recipient’s control and in many cases frustration and anger can escalate to depression and even ill health.  In a 2014 study, The European Environment Agency (EEA) estimates that noise is linked to approximately 43,000 hospital admissions, and up to 10,000 premature deaths per year.

When buying or renting property, people are rightly starting to think harder about noise issues that may affect them once they get to their new home.  After all the house-hunting, stress and, at times, breathtaking expense, how must it feel to hear the first bark of the neighbour's dog in the back garden or to be kept awake until the early hours on the first Friday night by a continuous stream of pedestrians on their way to a nightclub - or worse still, by the distant but persistent sound of the music from the nightclub itself?

If you are already suffering from problems at home there are a number of things that you should consider doing.  The first recommendation is that you should approach the person or company who you think is the cause of the problem.  It is always best to attempt a peaceful reconciliation before resorting to other measures, and surprisingly often, alerting the noise producer to the problem is all that is necessary.  For example, in the case of neighbours, they could be unaware that a dog is barking excessively while they are out at work; or if a business car park that backs onto your house is the chosen hang out for noisy car owners at night, the owner of the land may be willing to install measures to prevent public access.  Even if your approach is not greeted warmly, it is good to have it on record if you decide to take things further.  If you feel that the problem is likely to persist and you intend to take things further, the first thing to do is to keep an accurate diary of events.  You should record the occasions that the noise occurs as well as any steps you have taken to remedy matters.  

For most people The Environmental Health Department of the local council will be the first port of call to start to get the matter addressed.  The department will have a procedure in place and guidance to help you to voice your concerns.  It is important to get off of the right foot and to approach the department in the correct way and with accurate facts and information.  Verbal ranting and loss of temper or similar behaviour will normally lead to a negative reaction rather than a positive one and it is always better to be rational and organised when getting your point across even if you are feeling fed-up by this point.  The personnel of the department will consider your complaint and will act as the arbitrator between you and the noise maker.  If your complaint is valid, they will investigate and represent your rights.  This can become quite technical in terms of the noise levels as well and the surrounding legislation and planning law, so the support of the department will be a great help to you.

Sometimes, the department may be under-resourced and you may reach the conclusion that there is some complacency about your complaint.  If this happens you should refer to the published guidelines explaining the department’s obligations, response times and expectations.  You may find that you need to be reasonably forthright in making your case and be prepared to back it up with your own research to get things done, but this is a matter for careful judgement.

Unfortunately, if the Environmental Health department do not uphold your case or the noise persists in spite of their attempts to curb it, you may feel the desire to pursue the claim through the law.  This course of action should not be entered into lightly as it will certainly take a long time and will come only at a significant cost.  However, you should be able to get a free provisional meeting with a solicitor to give you an indication as to whether you have a case worth pursuing.

But what can you do if you are just considering your next move at the moment? As you will realise if you have bought a house recently, or if you have read any articles about conveyancing, the UK legal process is pretty thorough: in fact, significantly better than that in many other European countries, and much cheaper too.  Even so, the subject of noise is considered to be too subjective to be included in the standard set of solicitor-purchased property searches or at any other stage of the buying process.  We may take the trouble to ask the vendors if there are any problems, or highlight a particular cause for concern if there is something that looks troubling, but that is usually as far as it goes.  And, of course, everybody knows that a verbal question carries no weight in the eyes of the law, and it can be in the vendor’s interest to give away as little as possible. 

So how can you approach this subject when you are considering a house purchase or lease?  What can you do to protect yourself against the possibility of exposing yourself to these noisy frustrations?  In the first instance, it is important to view the property at various times of the day and the week and make sure that you have a good look around the neighbourhood.  Try to make sure that you see your immediate neighbours and try to understand their lifestyle.  You can learn a lot from simply knowing the number of people living in the house next door and their ages, for example. 

Try to think about the area you are moving into and understand the location in relation to particularly noisy business such as night clubs or factories or late night take-aways and other premises which may attract congregations of people.  Also consider intermittent events and activities that might only take place weekly or even seasonally.

For many, a major cause of noise nuisance is transport.  Think about this topic broadly and try to highlight any particular areas of concern.  Start by looking at a map on the internet and see where the nearest railway line or station is; work out whether there are any bus or coach stations or freight depots on your road that will lead to an increased density of heavy and noisy traffic.  Again, don’t forget that a viewing on a Saturday, or during the middle of the day, may present an unrealistic indication of the typical road usage at other times of the week - so come back at rush hour to get a more realistic take on the situation.  Also keep an eye out for bus stops that you might not have spotted on earlier viewings, or consult the timetable to get a feel for the frequency of the service.

If you have the time, it is a good idea to look at the local authority website and consider any large scale planning applications that may have been given permission near to the house.  Consider the short term disruption as well as the impact that the final project will have on your property enjoyment: be it positive or negative.  Planning data is also available commercially, at very reasonable cost, if you don’t have the time or facility to make your own enquiries.

If you are in a rural location, you may rightly feel you can expect a higher level of noise protection than some urban dwellers.  There are different noise sources that will need investigating in a remote location, such as mining and quarrying, aircraft movements, recreational motor sports, animals and agricultural practices, wind-farms and even wedding venues or church bells.  There are resources available both online and through council and local resources to help to put your mind at rest on some of these subjects too, so do what you can to research the potential problems before you commit to the purchase.

Until recently, the only way to consider noise as a factor in a house purchase was to carry out your own research and use your imagination to try to brainstorm the problem.  To search for specialists in your area - visit Local Surveyors Direct, who will provide you instantly with a list of local Specialists.

Article written by:

Magnus Willatts - Noise Info Ltd.

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