When neighbours are noisy

Most South Africans live in a world filled with noise pollution; we can’t escape the traffic, the airplanes, the construction work or even our own phones. For the most part people put up with it, except when it’s unnecessary; a neighbour’s barking dog or a party down the street with blaring music is enough to start a feud. This is possibly because one’s home is supposed to be a haven, not a trap in which to be harassed with intrusive noise.

The urban myth says that you can make noise until 22:00 on a week night and twelve on a weekend but, in actual fact most municipalities have by-laws that rather focus on the number of decibels rendered than the actual time frame in which they are created.

The Durban Metropolitan Area (DMA) uses the following guidelines to determine acceptable noise levels (as quoted in a Cities Environment Reports on the Internet report):

The figures indicate the number of decibels that would constitute acceptable noise levels in these areas, under the circumstances indicated.  The World Bank has also stipulated such a guideline which indicates that the maximum allowable ambient noise levels in a residential area are 55 decibels during the day and 45 at night.

The question then becomes, how loud is 40 decibels?  The City of Tshwane’s Noise Management Policy document gives the following comparisons:
·         25-30 decibels is akin to the quiet rustling of leaves
·         35-46 decibels equates an average suburban home during night time
·         50 decibels = an average suburban home during the day time.
·         70 decibels would be a blaring radio whereas 85-100 decibels would be the inside of a disco on a Saturday night.
Looking at these guidelines and examples it’s easy to see that anything beyond average household noise can be viewed as infringement on a neighbour’s right to peace and quiet, regardless of the time frame it occurs in.

“It has been our experience that people generally do not make undue noise. During festive periods people can become noisier as they celebrate; however most people keep the noise to a manageable level and duration” says Bruce Swain, MD of Leapfrog Property Group. Swain goes on to indicate that there are steps one can take should a neighbour not amend his or her behaviour: “as a first step I would encourage people to try to resolve the issue amicably. If this doesn’t work a letter can be drafted by all the affected parties in the area and handed over to the noisy neighbour. If both of these remedies fail the police can be called in”.

At first the police would most likely just issue a warning but, should calls persist, a summons or a ticket can be issued. According to the Environment Conservation Act 73 of 1989 fines of R500 and R1,000 can be issued. Should these steps fail to achieve the desired result it is possible to sue the person in question in a small claims court. Roy Bergman, Proprietor of Bergman’s Attorneys in Johannesburg, points out that one would have to gather evidence, sign affidavits and such as only the cases that seem provable will likely make it on to the backed-up court rolls.

When it comes to barking dogs the procedure is much the same, except in Cape Town. The Mother City has created Animal By-Law 2009, Chapter Two: Dogs, Section 5 which states that owners may not: “keep any dog which barks for more than six minutes in any hour or more than three minutes in any half hour” or “keep any dog which – by barking, yelping, howling or whining causes a disturbance or nuisance to inhabitants of the neighbourhood.”  “While I understand the intention behind the writing of this by-law I’m at a loss as to how the city could possibly enforce it”, says Swain, “that being said this can certainly make life difficult for people whose dogs bark excessively”. Officers are authorised to issue fines of up to R1,000 or, if the problem persists to approach magistrates and have the animals impounded.

Dog owners in Johannesburg can breathe somewhat easier as there are currently no plans to implement a similar strategy but, there is a system in place where a dog owner can be issued with a warning letter.

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