The tenants in the apartment above have electric drills for hands, bricks for shoes, and they blast music at all hours like their house is a 70's rock dive. We've all been there.
Nobody likes noisy neighbours.
Most of us would prefer to coexist alongside our neighbours in quiet, dignified peace.
And if you're trying to get a good night's sleep, put the kids to bed, work from home, or enjoy some quiet time, dealing with loud neighbours is a hassle many could do without.
Whether you're a tenant, homeowner, or landlord, we're here to help you address the problem without butting heads.
First of All, How Noisy CAN You Be?
Everybody has the right to enjoy their home in relative comfort. Now, this doesn't mean you're entitled to total silence.
And what's more, we all have different levels of tolerance. What constitutes a disturbance for one tenant is trifling for another. Some of us get up for work at the crack of dawn, and others are home-office night owls. Some of us want to enjoy our retirement in silence.
Unreasonable amounts of noise are subjective - but there are common rules of thumb for what constitutes unreasonable noise.
The law calls this a "nuisance", and it's dependent on where your home is, how loud a noise is, and how often it occurs.
Check Local Bylaws
Your first port of call is to check local bylaws. Noisy nuisances are a concern for every city.
Start by checking out your city's website. The bylaws should be spelt out there. If they're not (or you're having difficulty interpreting them), you can visit your city hall or call them during office hours to make an enquiry.
Remember that there's a wide spectrum of what's considered acceptable. If you're living next to a bustling airport, there's little you can do in the way of limiting the noise (except moving!).
Similarly, if your residence has a lot of surrounding nightlife, the bars and clubs will likely have noise permits.
Even so, it never hurts to ask. Nightclubs are notorious for overstepping their bounds and pushing the limits of what they're allowed to do.
Check Local Condo Board Bylaws
Condo owners must abide by the bylaws of their building. These tend to vary more greatly between the condo boards who write them.
What's more, the proximity of residents means that noise disturbances tend to crop up more often. Because the wording is often different, you'll have to interpret what constitutes a nuisance and what's worth pursuing.
In spite of this, if you're being negatively affected by noise, you have a case worth making.
Unreasonable Amounts of Noise
What's unreasonable, anyway?
This is a matter of discretion that's often decided on a case-by-case basis. For example, a neighbour who plays an instrument throughout the day might cause a nuisance to their surrounding neighbours.
But should they install noise dampeners to muffle the sound, that might constitute "reasonable" noise. Putting rugs and carpets down to muffle the sound of shoes on a hard wooden floor is another example.
Overall, the volume of a sound is important in assessing its level of acceptability:
- Sounds up to 60dB are acceptable
- Sounds above 85dB are considered harmful
- Sounds above 120dB cause instantaneous harm
An average conversation or soft background music sits somewhere between 40 and 60dB. But a leaf-blower or a shouted conversation is more in the range of 80-100dB, depending on how far away it is.
The scale's upper, "instant harm" end is the domain of a rock concert, explosion, or a gunshot.
Noise that falls into the first category (40-60dB) or matches the ambient background noise (whichever is higher) is generally considered fair. Anything above that - that's noise pollution.
Noise disturbances are regulated based on other factors, too:
- Indoor and outdoor noises
- Daytime and nighttime
- Urban, semi-urban, and rural zones
Your municipality will have guidelines and bylaws for any given scenario. But as a general rule, noises are more likely to become a nuisance at night, in areas with low ambient background noise.
Some noises are outright prohibited during certain hours of the day (such as a lawnmower at night) - as you'll see below.
Noisy Neighbours and the Law in Ontario
Ontario is Canada's most populated province and a splendid place to live. And in Ontario, noise pollution is defined as any sound that causes a person's property to be unpleasant - or unusable in the worst cases.
The most common health impacts include sleep deprivation or a loss of sleep, higher stress levels, and hearing loss in extreme cases.
Noise Complaints in Toronto
For those who live in Toronto, the city government spells out clear regulations for noise. When dealing with noise complaints in Toronto, they'll be processed by the Municipal Licensing & Standards Division.
However, they ask you to turn to the police's non-emergency number for the following noise complaints:
- Noisy parties
- Disorderly behaviour, including screaming and fighting
Regarding your noisy neighbours, below are common sources of noise that are restricted. Note that, except for persistent animal noise, all are permitted at certain levels at certain times.
For instance, it's acceptable to play music between 50dB and 75dB throughout the day. Construction noise and powered tool use are prohibited between the hours of 7 pm and 7 am (9 am on weekends) - and construction on Sundays is never permitted.
- Persistent animal noise (e.g. barking)
- Amplified sound (i.e. loud music)
- Construction noise
- Powered tools (e.g. leaf blowers and lawnmowers)
- Air conditioners and HVAC units
Taking Action Against Noisy Neighbours
It's important not to jump the gun once you've settled on taking action against noisy neighbours. They're only human, and there's a fair chance they haven't considered things from your perspective.
They might not be aware that the noise they're making is causing you discomfort.
Step 1: Speak to Them Directly
Suppress the urge to leave a note on their front door. Even notes written with a kind word and a smile can come off as passive-aggressive.
Face-to-face interactions foster cooperation. Talking to your noisy neighbours in a direct, non-aggressive manner is a great way to start. You may find that your noise concerns end there.
It's best to remain diplomatic, not to get defensive, and remember that you may be making noise, too. In general, it's considered polite etiquette to inform your neighbours of an upcoming party or get-together you might be hosting.
But some people won't respond to polite requests. And if the noise doesn’t settle down after a polite conversation...
Step 2: Report Them Using a Non-emergency Line
As irritating as a late-night disturbance might be, it's not life or death. Your local municipality will have means of reporting your neighbours for noise disturbances. It's a very common occurrence.
Depending on the source of the noise, this might mean contacting the police via their non-emergency hotline or getting in touch with your municipal office.
This is an important step, as it creates a record of the history of your noise complaint.
And if the noise continues to persist...
Step 3: Take Legal Action
Unreasonable noise that persists over an extended period of time eventually ceases to be considered a nuisance and becomes a disturbance - an offence punishable by the Canadian Criminal Code.
The threat of legal action may be enough to quieten your neighbour down. And it should be taken as a last resort - after all, you're living next to each other and your relationship won't be the same after you've begun the process.
Yet if you're left with no other option than to take legal action, you will need to gather proof and be prepared for a long and grueling legal process.
Dealing with Noise as a Condo Owner
As we mentioned above, condominiums have their own bylaws dictated by their governing boards. The process for dealing with noise as a condo owner is straightforward.
Step 1: Speak to Them Directly
The direct approach is often best. Once again, your neighbours may not be aware of the ruckus they're causing, or how thin the walls are that separate your living spaces.
Remember to check your condo's bylaws before approaching your neighbours. If you can point to a specific bylaw they're breaching, you're more likely to convince them to keep things quiet.
If they insist on not quieting down…
Step 2: File a Formal Complaint
You can file a formal complaint with your condo management board if your neighbour remains callous. You may wish to do so instead of speaking with your neighbour if you'd like to avoid the confrontation.
The board knows its bylaws and is committed to ensuring all residents are abiding by them.
Your complaint will carry more weight if you can prove your accusations, so consider recording the noise (with a phone) or keeping a noise journal.
For example, imagine your neighbour's dog barks and whines while they're at work. Write down the frequency and persistence of the noise, and record it with your phone to back up your claim.
Your board will investigate in due time.
How Does the Enforcement Process Work in Ontario?
Enforcement of bylaws is determined by the municipal office, but the process is broadly similar across the country.
Usually, a condo management board or municipality's enforcement officer will try to resolve the matter informally.
In cases where it's deemed necessary, or where no improvement is made, the council or management board can issue fines. These are in the region of $500.
If you remain unsatisfied with the outcome, the Civil Resolution Tribunal allows you to submit your claims online.
Is There a Device for Noisy Neighbours?
Filing formal complaints and threatening legal action are one side of the coin. If you're looking for immediate results (and your neighbours aren't accommodating), consider investing in simple devices to block out disturbances.
The simplest solution is also the cheapest: earplugs. They won't block frequencies or sounds completely. But they'll muffle ambient noise enough to help you get a better night's sleep.
Sleep or noise-cancelling headphones are a more radical approach. Sleeping headphones emit white noise. They'll go a step further than a pair of earplugs.
If the distracting noises are keeping you from working from home, then noise-cancelling headphones can allow you to focus when you need to. They're a particularly good solution if your neighbours aren't breaking any bylaws but you need to concentrate.
For persistent noise disturbances, contemplate insulating your home against noise.
Air carries sound waves from great distances, and airflow beneath doors and in window cracks can be mitigated with draft blockers and weatherstripping tape.
Sound-absorbing curtains are a viable option if you find yourself disturbed by the racket of a bustling street.
Sound Recording Equipment
Should you need proof to back up your noise complaints, you might consider investing in recording equipment - particularly if you're taking formal legal action.
There are two things for you to think about: professional recording devices, and dB measurement equipment.
A professional microphone records with far better clarity than a mobile phone. It will allow you to prove the persistence of noisy neighbours without a doubt.
Meanwhile, measuring the actual decibel output of noises will demonstrate that a neighbour is producing unreasonable levels of noise and needs to keep it down in the future.
If all else fails, you could consider hiring a professional sound engineer to do the hard work for you. Bear in mind, though, that this will come with a hefty price tag.
The Quiet and Peaceful Conclusion
Our homes are our port in the storm. There's nothing like some peace and quiet when you arrive home after a hard day's work.
Noisy neighbours affect your quality of life, your stress levels, and your personal wellbeing. In an ideal world, talking the problem over with them would be enough - but unfortunately, sometimes that just doesn't cut it.
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