Handling noisy neighbours

Is there anything that I can do about noisy neighbours?

I live in a block of flats with elderly people next door who slam their bathroom door and clean their toilet with a toilet brush, banging it against the seat repeatedly as early as 4.00am.

I have written them two letters asking them to please stop and am now at my wits end.

Is there anything I can do about this?

Because of the close proximity in which people generally live in sectional title schemes, noise "nuisance" is an issue that arises frequently. I quote a passage below, written by my father, Professor Graham Paddock, in response to a question on nuisance on www.sto.co.za:

"In ordinary English usage of the word 'nuisance' is often used to denote any disagreeable circumstance.

"But in law a nuisance is a persistent and unreasonable — and therefore unlawful — interference with the rights of others. The law expects people to be reasonably robust, particularly if the surrounding circumstances are likely to give rise to regular disturbances — such as one encounters in high-density developments.

"The test for nuisance discounts the possibility that a person has any special sensitivities, i.e. behaviour does not become a nuisance because you are particularly sensitive to it. In essence, a nuisance is not an irritation or an inconvenience, it is an actionable wrongdoing; an interference with the rights of a legal subject so unacceptable that the State allows the victim to approach a court for relief in the form of an interdict prohibiting the ongoing harm or in the form of damages for proven loss suffered as a result of the nuisance.

"Examples of nuisance (extracted from a legal text on the subject) are: 'foul odour, smoke, gas, fumes, noise, vibration or similar substances or phenomena. In excessive quantities or levels these substances or phenomena, impinging upon the sensory organs, induce actual physical discomfort and distress in human occupants of land.'

"In every case the question of what is reasonable will be determined taking into account all the surrounding circumstances."

So it is clear that the harm suffered as a result of the apparent nuisance must be substantial in order to obtain any legal relief.

In the case you describe it would be expensive and may well be unsuccessful if you attempted to obtain an interdict against your neighbours for banging doors and cleaning their toilet at 4.00am.

I would suggest that instead of writing letters and trying to get the managing agent involved you go around to your neighbours and speak to them in a non-aggressive manner. Explain the disturbance they are causing you without being accusatory and ask them if they could save their noisy activities for normal working hours.

If they fail to comply with your request, you may need to get yourself a good pair of earplugs.

Article by: Jennifer Clements - www.paddocks.co.za