UK Residential Sound Laws
Who wants to know what the legal UK residential sound levels are? There are none! I know crazy right. To make things even more fun, the council don’t even have to come to your house or your neighbours. They entirely base their decision on what the other person says and any “witnesses” they can scrounge up. Don’t be mistaken into thinking the councils ASB Action Team are there to mediate because they are not. They just want to shut you up and close the case as soon as possible. There is a common misconception that the council must send someone out with a sound measuring device, sit in your neighbours place and detect the level you are producing. That is a myth. As I said, they base their decision solely on the word of your neighbours and their friends. How do I know all this? Well I’m on the receiving end of a noise nuisance complaint.
Here’s the background to todays story. I’ve never had a complaint, ever, about the volume level of my music. I work at home so I’m here 85% of the time during the day. I do like to listen to music whilst I work and a chunk of the time I’m actually listening to music that accompanies my projects as I work on various advertising campaigns which have audio along with their videos. I don’t have it rip-roaring loud as it makes my ears hurt. I listen to a eclectic mix of music ranging from old tunes like Johnny Cash to PJ Harvey to Nero.
In June 2011, I was working upstairs, as usual, when I heard a knocking at my front door accompanied by my doorbell being rung several times. When I opened it I was met by a woman and man whome I’d never met. The woman was at the front, the man made a point of staying back, out of sight of my porch security camera. As soon as I opened the door the woman introduced herself and her husband as the owners of the vacant house next door. She said that they had been trying to sell the house and that a recent sale had pulled out because of the loud music eminating from my property. I had not said a single word at that point, letting her finish explaining. This went on for several minutes at which point her husband started angrily making the same points she had just said and then asked why I hadn’t said anything yet i.e. “DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM SAYING!?”. I said that I did and that he did not need to shout. I asked the woman if there was any time in particular it was too loud and she said people could view the house at any time so I should keep it turned down all the time. I said that I did not think it was that loud and had never had a complaint from any of their tenants but that I would turn it down. We all said bye and that was it as far as I was concerned. I went upstairs turned it down and carried on working.
About half an hour later it was lunch time so sent my system to sleep and went downstairs to make my food. I sat down in my living room to eat and watch an episode of MacGyver and then within a few minutes I had very loud banging at my front door, again with the doorbell ringing at the same time. I opened the door and found the man stood out in the street, on the other side of my garden shouting at me. “YOU’RE TAKING THE PISS NOW” and things along that line. Again, I did not say a word, I just let him shout for a while. Through his obnoxious ranting I could piece together that him and his wife had sat down in the empty room next to my living room to have a cup of tea when all of the sudden my rip-roaring racket tore through the wall and shattered their peace. They could not hear themselves think. You know, because MacGyver is a super noisy show, you know, if he wasn’t constantly trying to sneak around obstacles. So back to the mans ranting. When he got to the part where he shouted “I’LL HAVE YOU SORTED OUT” I took that as somewhat of a threat, maybe I’m missing how that was somehow meant politely when shouted at me by someone who so far has made two attempts at avoiding being caught on camera and is wearing dark gloves on a scorching summers day. At this point, I decided I should say something so I stated that it was not loud music and that I was in fact now watching TV whilst having lunch. I said it was not loud and that I was certain it was within the legal sound level at which point he shouted “WE’LL SEE ABOUT THAT!” and stormed off.
I did not swear once or threaten him or his wife. I even kept a smile on my face the entire time. Not a sarcastic grin or anything but a nice normal smile to show I was trying to be friendly. Clearly this guy is a bully and is used to having his way. I have the security camera footage but there is no audio and the second one is practically useless as the only time you see him is when he runs up to the door and starts battering it. Even then he tries to keep his face turned away from the camera which is very obvious.
So that’s it. The entire contact I’ve had with them. One week later I receive a letter from the councils ASBAT unit saying that a noise nuisance in the form of loud music has been reported and that they wanted me to go in for a meeting. I couldn’t make the meeting so I emailed the council woman Hannah Pursall who had sent me the letter and explained my side of things. She then replied and asked if I could phone her. I was under the misconception that she was some form of mediator. It quickly became clear she had already made her decision before I’d even spoken to her and the point of the meeting was basically “you’ve been served” notice. It was not a discussion, it was simply “do what I say or else”. She said if they can hear the music outside my property, through open windows then it was grounds for me being a sound nuisance. That’s right, through open windows. It’s been a stonkingly hot summer and I do have all the house windows open. My room is at the back of the house. So I was royally steamed with the ASBAT officer but I thought screw it, that’s all done and dusted. Just keep it down and all will be alright. Then I received a letter where she took all the things I said and twisted them. So now I was the one that intimidated the man next door meaning it was alright for him to act as he did. Since the day when he came around and shouted at me they had written down that they could hear noise each day since then. Not that it was excessive, just that they could stand in their empty room next to mine and hear something.
It does not matter that the house has been vacant for several months, the man and wife do not live there and never have. All the rooms are barren and have wood floors. Anyone with common sense knows that empty rooms echo the sound more than a room with any furniture in it.
So what’s the big deal? Well these two strangers that own the empty house next door just have to complain once more and then I get an Abatement Notice from the ASBAT unit. Then if they complain again they get a warrant from a judge which means the council can send their bailiff thugs into my house to seize “any sound producing equipment e.g. stereos, speakers, amplifiers etc”. To me that says pretty much any electronic equipment I own. On top of that I get a criminal record and if I try and stop the government brutes breaking in I get a £1000 fine and up to a year in prison. That is why it is a big deal to me.
My sound system consists of my work PC in my room which has a Creative X-Fi Titanium sound card and the Creative Inspire P5800 speaker system which consists of 5 small speakers a sub woofer. I have the front left, center and front right speakers on my desk and the two rear speakers in the far back corners of my room, behind me. The sub woofer is under my desk. I have windows volume set to maximum and control it manually via the systems external volume control. That has two dials on it, one for bass and one for volume. I never move the bass one, it’s set at a half turn. So if you have it turned to absolute zero then roll it half of the open wheel area. That is hardly anything. It can scroll 3 full lengths so I have it set at roughly 15% of the maximum. I don’t like it much higher as I think it distorts the sound from non-bassy tunes, making them almost echo. The volume control generally sticks at about 1/2 to 3/4 a full turn of the open wheel area. I do move it depending what I’m listening to as some things are just quieter than others. I use the Creative Audio Control Panel to balance the front-rear sound so it is perfectly aimed at my desk chair.
I quickly realised that the couple that own the house and Hannah the council worker were in no way going to be reasonable human beings. Here is a copy of all the emails that went backwards and forwards.
My email to Hannah Pursall after receiving her initial letter:
Hi, I received a letter today where you invited me to an appointment next week. I have no transport of my own and I am working on some very time sensitive projects at the moment so I can’t take time from my work to travel to Hulme. I can give you all the information that I know and hopefully that will be of some assistance to you.
I live in a semi-detached house, the other side has been vacant for several months. Prior to that there was a family of three that I talked to on numerous occasions and prior to them an elderly lady, whose son and wife are the ones that contacted you. None of the people who have actually lived in the house next door have ever complained or mentioned that they had any problems.
The couple that complained to you have only spoken to me twice, both on the same day. The first was when they came around mid-morning. They came together and the lady did most of the talking. She introduced herself and told me that my music was too loud and that they would like me to turn it down whilst they are trying to sell the house as two of the sales fell through citing sound pollution as the cause. The man then went on a rant at which point I just let him carry on until he had run out of steam. Then they both left.
I did turn my music down as it was a bit over my normal listening levels since I was cleaning the house. When I finished I made lunch and sat down to watch some TV whilst eating. A few minutes later my door was being banged on and my doorbell rang at the same time. When I opened the door the man from before was stood out in the street shouting at me. Not at my door, on my driveway or in my garden, right from the street. He said that the noise was unbearable, that they have had four sales fall through because of me and that he would not stand for it.
I tried to tell him about not having a problem with any of the people that actually live there and that no one has ever come around and said anything until him and his wife but he wasn’t having any of it. He then became threatening at which point I said that I was certain I was within the legal sound limit and that he was being unnecessarily aggressive. He shouted some more unintelligible sounds and stormed off. That’s the last I heard about the issue until your letter arrived.
The house has been on sale for over a year. If they received complaints for all of that time from possible buyers then I don’t see why they didn’t come around sooner. I doubted the lady earlier in the day when she said 2 sales but I am sure the man was wrong when he later said 4 sales. In reality I think it was one potential sale and that was within the last two weeks. I remember because I was in my room with the window open, poorly singing along to something when I noticed a lady carrying a baby out in the neighbours garden watching me, aghast, she didn’t seem that impressed with my vocals!
From my point of view, I’ve never met these people before. I live next to an empty and vacant property and have never received any complaints about my sound levels from the people that lived there previously. I understand them being annoyed if house sales have fallen through because of me but no one told me that until they came around shouting at and threatening me. As I said, my music is not very loud normally, to the point that I tend to hear my neighbours own music or TV above mine.
Thank you for your prompt response to my letter. I am sorry you are unable to attend the proposed appointment due to work commitments, but thanks again for letting me know.
I would still like to discuss the issue with you. If you are unable to meet in person, would we be able to have a discussion over the phone? If so please either phone my office on the number below, or if you would prefer, you can provide me with a number that I can call you on.
So after the “you got served” phone call I received the two page letter I posted above. I sent Hannah this email, thinking I’d come up with a reasonable solution:
Hi, I write in confirmation of receiving your letter today. I already told you that I turned things down as they requested. In your letter you talk about the estate agent and a builder hearing loud music. The first day that the couple came to my door was on the 18th which is after the estate agent and builder had been there. Since their first visit I have been running with everything turned lower than normal and no one else has been around to say anything is wrong.
Wouldn’t a good compromise be that they just get the estate agent to let me know when they are coming around for a viewing? He usually sits in his car in front of our houses for 10 minutes or so before the viewer’s turn up anyway. I think that is a very simple thing to do and it should satisfy everybody involved.
Then I received Hannahs response which was totally unhelpful. To state a point, the estate agents always sit in front of our two houses for ages before the viewings. I’ve actually met a couple of them out on the street and said Hi as we passed each other. Never have they said anything about sound pollution to me. Hannah thinks it is unreasonable of them to have to walk the whole 10 feet to my front door and ring the door bell to tell me things are too loud. In her point of view getting a court order, giving me a criminal record and having my house ransacked is more “reasonable”:
The letter was sent to summarise what we discussed on the phone and it is a record for both of us of the conversation we had. In the letter where I have made reference to builders and estate agents hearing loud music, this is the corroboration which I told you about during our conversasion. I have not received any more complaints since we spoke.
In reference to your second point where you suggest a compromise, I do not think it is appropriate that the estate agent should have to phone you before they arrive so you can turn your music down. This is because you should not be playing excessively loud music regardless of whether or not there are visitors to the property next door.
The house next door to you may be empty at present, but eventually someone will live there. If you continue to play your music at a volume which is heard inside the adjoining property or outside in the street, please consider how this will affect the new occupants.
As already explained by telephone and in my letter to you, if I receive any further reports of excessive music emanating from your address, the Local Authority has a duty to serve an Abatement Notice to cease the nuisance.
I hope this answers your question. If not, please get back to me.
So realising that Hannah was not going to help me at all I decided to call the estate agents directly. The girl said she had done the viewing with the old man that had pulled out of the sale. She said she could hear the music but didn’t think it was that loud. She said she did not realise that Hannah was going to use what she had said as part of a statement in a legal case against me. She said potential buyer had been around later that same day and could hear sounds coming out of the living room. That particular night I was not in, dad was and he was watching some of his Tour De France recordings with the living room windows open. So this old guy has taken the effort to walk up and down our road at 10:30 at night but doesn’t have the common sense to knock his potential new neighbours door. So I sent this to Hannah afterwards:
I just spoke to the estate agents and they said they have no problem. She said she’s been by a couple of times this week and not heard anything loud and those were at times I would definitely of been here. If there is a problem then the estate agent will knock on and let me know. We all just want them to sell that house and be gone.
If am doing something to inconvenience others and don’t realise then I do not mind being told that at which point I will do my best to remedy the situation, when given a fair chance.
After everything else above I finally decided to complain, not about Hannah in particular, just about the rough treatment:
Hi, last week I received a letter from the ASB Action Team in which I was invited to a meeting about a noise nuisance complaint by the people that own the house next door. I could not make the meeting so I wrote a lengthy email explaining my side of the matter. I was then asked to telephone Hannah Pursall to discuss the matter further. This is not a complaint about Hannah, it is a complaint about the way the system works.
I’ll explain the situation to put things into perspective. A couple of Fridays ago I opened my front door to find a couple I have never met before. The lady explained that they owned the house next door and that they have been unable to sell the house due to me constantly playing loud music. I tried to explain that my music was not very loud at which point the man started getting abusive. I let him have his rant and then said I would turn the music down anyway, which I did. About half an hour later I stopped work and went downstairs to have lunch. I put the TV on and sat down to eat. A few minutes later my front door was being banged on at the same time as my doorbell was being rung. When I opened it I found the man standing out in the street, past my garden, shouting more abuse. In amongst his threats he was screaming that I had had my chance and that this was the end of it. I informed him that I was not listening to music at that time and it was in fact my TV and that was definitely not very loud but he wasn’t having any of it and that he was going to “deal with me” at which point I closed my door.
The house they own is vacant and totally empty at the moment and has been like that for a few months now. Prior to that a family lived there which I talked to on several occasions and never had a problem with. Before them it was an elderly lady who again, I talked to on several occasions and had no problems with. I’ve never had a complaint about my music or TV volume before and I did turn things down as soon as the couple left the first time that day. I know that sound can be louder in an empty house like theirs since it is like being in an empty cave which echoes.
The house has been on sale for almost a year including the time that the family was renting it so I find it highly unfair for the couple to blame me for losing every potential sale they might have had. In all that time no one has ever come around to talk to me about noise. I have seen the same estate agent sat in their car in front of the house on several occasions, even passed them a few times in the street and they never said a thing. So from my point of view there was no problem. From not hearing a word to having two angry visits in one day. The next thing was four days later when I received the letter from Hannah saying that I was a noise nuisance.
The phone call with Hannah reminded me of one of those people you see on American TV shows where somebody opens the door and are handed court papers in a “you got served” kind of capacity. The point of the phone call was not to discuss the matter but simply to tell me that if they report me a second time then a judge would become involved and bailiffs would then be legally allowed to enter my house without my permission and take “any sound producing equipment”. I said multiple times that I thought this treatment was unfair but that made no difference. Hannah said that if they can hear my music out of my window then that is valid grounds for me being a noise nuisance.
I work from home, I am here most of every day working hard. I do have music on but it is not very loud. From the vague description of “any sound producing equipment” I take that could mean anything in my house which could render me unable to work. I keep my music at a level where I can have still easily have a phone conversation without having to shout. You can hear it outside when my window is open but it is quiet enough that you have to really listen to be able to tell what is being played. When it comes to the TV, that has a number based volume system which is always kept between 15 and 20. At that level we can hear what is going on but still have a conversation without having to shout across the room at each other.
I have been walking on eggshells for almost two weeks now in case the couple decide to visit the house again. I actually assumed they would complain again regardless just to “deal with me”. In my mind they have already proven themselves to be liars as on their first visit the lady said two sales had fallen through. On the mans second visit he started by saying four sales and then ended by saying “all” sales. Hannah said she had been in contact with the estate agent who confirmed what they had said. I don’t see how his word can be better than mine since he has his own motivations for agreeing, he wouldn’t want to anger his clients plus it’s easier to blame me than his own sales technique. I told Hannah that I doubted the numbers they had claimed and that in fact I thought the figure was closer to just one. The reason for that being that earlier in the week I had been getting ready for a meeting and I was singing along to whatever was on at the time. I heard talking in the back yard and when I looked out saw a girl with a young baby staring at me in shock. I think we were both a bit embarrassed at that point. The only other time I can think of was a few weeks ago when I was working in the alley next my house. It was mid-morning and I was clearing out wood and plaster. I had a portable radio playing whilst I worked out there. I could hear an older man in the neighbours back garden talking to somebody else. There is only some bushes separating the two properties so they could of simply leaned over them to ask me to turn it down if that was a problem. Out of everybody involved, I am the only actual resident that lives in or near the house in question so why is it that I have no say in the matter?
Does it not make common sense that between three adults, just one of them, at some point over the course of the year could of come around and mentioned something without shouting? I understand if they somehow felt threatened but judging from the way they were screaming and shouting at me I find that highly doubtful. At first I tried to keep absolutely everything in my house quiet but I am sick of it. I am not a child to be scolded. I have done nothing wrong, I pay my taxes, work hard and am a good citizen. I am fed up of feeling like I live in a prison where I can be punished for the slightest thing. I utterly resent the threat that my house will be forcibly entered by strangers who are allowed to take anything they want to punish me and that if I interfere then I can be arrested. These tactics seem very unfair and heavy handed. I find it amazing that the council which is supposed to represent the people including myself should find it acceptable to make threats against myself, my property and my possessions with no actual proof that I have done anything wrong. I wish to have this matter resolved and have the threat lifted so I can carry on with my life without worrying about the next knock at the door being the bailiffs.
All of that was clearly pointless as they were clearly going to side with one of their own office chums. What a fool I was, bet they had a good laugh at my expense:
I write in response to your email dated 6 July 2011, in which you made a complaint about your treatment by the ASB Action Team. I summarise your complaint as follows:
You wish to complain about the way the system works in relation to reports the Council have received about loud music emanating from your property.
I have now had the opportunity to investigate your complaint and can advise as follows.
During mid June 2011 the Councils Anti Social Behaviour Action Team (ASBAT) received a complaint about loud music emanating from your property. The complaint was about loud music in June 2011 and not a complaint about any previous prolonged history of loud music.
When any such complaint about noise nuisance is received, the ASBAT have a duty to respond to the complaint and to take any appropriate action to resolve the complaint. This will involve taking details from those person making the complaint, alongside investigating the complaint so that the ASBAT is satisfied of the legitimacy of the complaint.
In June 2011 the ASBAT therefore obtained details of the reports of loud music emanating from your property, and also investigated the matter by speaking with other persons who it had been reported had also witnessed occasions of loud music emanating from your property. I can advise that the ASBAT secured evidence which independently corroborated the initial complaint about loud music emanating from your property. Based on the investigations carried out, the ASBAT were therefore satisfied of the legitimacy of the reports of loud music emanating from your property. Following this the ASBAT wrote to you asking you to attend an appointment on 6 July 2011 in order to discuss the reports of loud music, to try and reach some agreement with you regarding the matter and to explain to you the potential consequences of any further incidents of loud music emanating from your property.
I understand you replied via email to Hannah Pursall on 29 June 2011 advising that you were unable to attend the meeting on 6 July 2011. In you email you made an admission that you had played music “a bit over your normal listening levels”.
Hannah then spoke to you on the telephone on 30 June 2001 and based on the outcome of the investigation into the complaint of loud music emanating from your property, as well as your own admission, Hannah explained to you the potential consequences of any further incidents of loud music emanating from your property.
I can advise that where the ASBAT are satisfied of the existence of a statutory nuisance, or that such a nuisance is likely to occur or reoccur, the ASBAT have a statutory duty to serve a Noise Abatement Notice requiring the abatement of the nuisance or prohibiting or restricting its reoccurrence. With regard to the complaints about loud music emanating from your property the ASBAT decided to first warn you about the potential consequences of any further loud music emanating from your property, prior to consideration of service on you of a Noise Abatement Notice. As per above, this warning was provided to you based on the outcome of the ASBAT’s investigation into the complaints of loud music emanating from your property, and the evidence secured which independently corroborated the reports about loud music emanating from your property.
I can advise that since your telephone conversation with Hannah Pursall on 30 June 2011, no further reports have been received about loud music emanating from your property.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for ensuring that no further loud music has been played inside your property which has caused or would have been capable of causing a nuisance or annoyance to surrounding residents.
I hope that this therefore concludes the matter, and that there will not be any need for the further involvement of the ASBAT.
Anti Social Behaviour Action Team
So where do I find myself now? Well I’m screwed. I had already reduced the noise before the council got involved. The only reason the couple that own the house next door, note NOT MY NEIGHBOURS, called them was so they could bully me and prove they could beat me. Now I have to put up with shit like the man laughing at me out in the street. If I say or do anything then he will just call the council and say I’ve had a wild slum party or some crap like that. I know it and he knows it and is happy to let me know that he knows! So now the TV is kept between 25 and 30 which sucks as you can hardly hear people speak. Dad has given up on several movies as he couldn’t hear what was being said. I have to tell him off for watching DIY shows too loudly.
I’ve bought myself a pair of Logitech G930 headphones for upstairs so I can listen to music and do my work without worrying about bursting anybodies ear drums. I also bought some Turtle Beach X41 headphones for downstairs. I connected them to the optical output on the amp so that anything that comes through the amp can be channeled through the headphones. Of course this means me and dad can’t watch movies together any more but according to the council, that is “reasonable”.
As time has gone on I’ve been getting more and more wound up about it. I’ve started to not wear the headphones all the time as I get headaches from them pressing my glasses into my skull, plus my ears get all soar from being in headphone cups for 8 hours a day. I bought a Silverline Sound Measurer today. I’m going to start measuring the sound levels each day to see if I am actually being a noisy sod. I’m not totally sure I’ve got it setup right. Here’s how I’m going to measure the levels. I set the dial to 70, the weighting to C and the response to Slow. Then I take three measurements and calcluate the average. I’ll do this when I’m upstairs working and when I’m downstairs having lunch. I’ll do two sets of measurements for each location. One will be from where I sit and the other will be from right next to the wall between our houses.
I am determined to fight this. I will not be bullied in my own house by a clear villain and his council chums.