The noise complaints that could lead to fines and even arrest in South Africa

With more South Africans choosing to live in high-density complexes, it’s inevitable that you will come across those neighbours who appear intent on making your life miserable whether it be because of a barking dog, loud music, late night parties, arguing and shouting, swearing, or banging doors.

Bregmans attorneys says that South African law distinguishes a ‘disturbing noise’ as an objective and is defined as a scientifically measurable noise level.

In comparison, ‘noise nuisance’ is a subjective measure and is defined as any noise that disturbs or impairs or may disturb or impair the convenience or peace of any person.

“Disturbing noise in an urban environment is governed by municipal by-laws. An example of this kind of noise would be loud music that is played to all hours of the night.

“Most municipalities have by-laws in place that focus on the level of decibels reached rather than the actual time frame in which noise is made,” Bregmans said.

“Noise nuisance is more subjective and usually happens over a longer period. It’s defined as noise that “disturbs or impairs or may disturb or impair the convenience or peace of any person.”

Bregmans said that this could include any of the following:

  • Dogs that bark incessantly;
  • Playing a musical instrument or operating a television set loudly;
  • Operating machinery or power tools;
  • Shouting and talking loudly;
  • Operating a vehicle that causes a noise;
  • Driving a vehicle on a public road in a manner that causes a noise nuisance;
  • The discharge of fireworks in a residential area causing noise nuisance.

Dealing with the problem 

Bregmans said that the most practical and cost-effective way to deal with a noise nuisance would be to approach your neighbour directly and politely and tell them of the problem and, together, find a solution.

If you cannot sort out the problem, you should consider appointing a mediator to facilitate a resolution to the dispute.

If a neighbourly approach doesn’t work:

  • The first option is to lay a complaint with your local authority by way of a written statement. Law enforcement officials will investigate the problem to see how serious the situation is. If necessary, they can instruct the reduction of the noise and if the offenders don’t comply, they can issue a fine, and in extreme cases even confiscate the equipment causing the noise nuisance;
  • If the above fails and the offence persists, your lawyer would ask your neighbour to desist and if that too fails, will approach the court for an interdict to stop the noise nuisance. The court considers these factors when determining if the actions are unlawful: the type of noise, the degree of persistence, where the noise occurs, the times when the noise is made, and all efforts made to resolve the matter. You must satisfy the judge that the noise has negatively affected your quality of life, your health, your comfort and your general well-being.

“If an interdict is issued and the neighbour persists with the unlawful actions, the neighbour may be found guilty of contempt of court, in which case the court may impose a fine or alternatively imprisonment in serious cases,” Bregmans said.


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The noise complaints that could lead to fines and even arrest in South Africa