Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

Dealing with neighbourhood noise

Preventing neighbourhood noise

Neighbourhood noise, such as noise from animals, alarms, machines and parties can be very annoying. You can often stop noise that disturbs you without involving your council, the police or the Environment Protection Authority (EPA). This booklet outlines steps you can take to prevent noise being an issue for you.

When noise annoys

There are laws that tell us what levels of noise are acceptable. Yet how we respond to particular noises depends on the type of noise and how we feel about it. What is fine one day can drive us to distraction the next, and noise that is acceptable to one person may be unacceptable to another.

Recognising how our moods can influence our response helps us judge when others are being too noisy.

If a source of noise is a problem for you, there are several things you can do.

Talk to people

Try to solve the problem amicably by talking to whoever is causing the noise. Often people do not realise they are being noisy and are happy to work with you to solve the problem as alternatives are frequently available.

Contact a Community Justice Centre

If the noise continues, you can contact a Community Justice Centre (CJC). These are government-funded but independent centres that specialise in settling differences between neighbours without entering into complicated legal processes. A CJC will suggest a mediation process. This is where you meet with the people who are making the noise, together with a CJC representative, to try and solve the problem. This process will not cost you any money, and has a high success rate.

For CJC contact details, visit the CJC website.

If your neighbour will not attend a mediation session, and the noise continues, you can do the following:

Contact your local council

Under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act), local councils can serve various notices on people occupying homes and businesses, requiring them to control offensive noise and advising them what noise levels are acceptable.

A prevention notice contains conditions on ways of preventing or stopping noise, and is issued under section 96 of the POEO Act.

A noise control notice sets an acceptable noise level for a specific item of noisy equipment, and is issued under section 264 of the POEO Act. Councils can serve notices covering noise from animals and from a wide range of appliances, including air conditioners, swimming pool pumps, heat pump water heaters, radios, sound reproduction equipment, musical instruments, power tools, lawn mowers and burglar alarms. The notice can require the noisy activities to be restricted to certain times of the day or certain days. If the notice is not complied with, the council can issue a fine or prosecute.

People who receive a notice can appeal against it.

Seek a noise abatement order

If your neighbour is continually being noisy, has a noisy animal or is using noisy appliances, and you decide to take action independently of the local council or other regulator, you can seek a noise abatement order under section 268 of the POEO Act. To apply for an order, contact your local court (listed under 'Local Courts' in the White Pages). You may also consider asking your legal adviser for help. You can contact the registry staff at your local court who will explain the process to you. There are fees for applying for a noise abatement order.

If the court is satisfied that the neighbour is causing an offensive noise or that the noise is likely to recur, it may order them to stop the noise or prevent a recurrence. If the person fails to comply with the order, they could be prosecuted.

The person responsible for causing the noise can appeal against the order.

The brochure Seeking noise abatement orders contains more details.

When the noise is a one-off problem

If you are disturbed by a particular incident like amplified music, contact your local council or the local police station. They can issue a warning (see noisy domestic equipment below) or issue a noise abatement direction under section 276 of the POEO Act directing a person to stop making the offensive noise.

A noise abatement direction may be issued at any time of the day or night and can remain in force for up to 28 days from the time it was issued. A person who fails to comply with it can be issued with an on-the-spot fine of $200 ($400 for a corporation). Noise abatement directions cannot be appealed against. The police and authorised officers of councils have powers that allow them to seize equipment used to make noise (e.g. a sound system in contravention of a noise abatement direction).

What is offensive noise?

The definition of offensive noise in the POEO Act is noise:

(a) that, by reason of its level, nature, character or quality, or the time at which it is made, or any other circumstances:

(i) is harmful to (or is likely to be harmful to) a person who is outside the premises from which it is emitted, or

(ii) interferes unreasonably with (or is likely to interfere unreasonably with) the comfort or repose of a person who is outside the premises from which it is emitted, or

(b) that is of a level, nature, character or quality prescribed by the regulations or that is made at a time, or in other circumstances, prescribed by the regulations.

For further information about what constitutes offensive noise see the Noise Guide for Local Government.

Common types of noise

Barking dogs

For advice on this issue, see the brochure Dealing with barking dogs.

Noisy vehicles

For advice on this issue, see the brochure Managing vehicle noise.

Noisy alarms

For annoying building and car alarms, contact the police or your council. Their officers can issue penalty notices when alarms sound for longer than the period specified below.

It is an offence for a building intruder alarm to be heard in other homes unless it stops sounding within 5 minutes (or within 10 minutes if installed before 1 December 1997). It is also an offence for a car alarm that can be heard anywhere to sound for more than 45 seconds (or more than 90 seconds for a car manufactured before 1 September 1997).

For building alarms and vehicles manufactured on or after 1 March 2009, no distinction is made between an alarm sounding because of a break-in or because it is faulty. For vehicles manufactured before 1 March 2009, a defence is provided in the Regulation for alarms that sound because of an accident or illegal entry.

The police and council officers may issue penalty notices for alarms that sound continuously or intermittently. Penalties for individuals are: $200 if the alarm sounds for up to 4 hours, $400 if it sounds between 4 and 8 hours, and $600 if it sounds for longer than 8 hours. Penalties for corporations are double those for individuals.

For more details, see the brochure Managing noise from intruder alarms.

Noise from pubs and clubs

The Office of Liquor, Racing and Gaming manages noise from licensed premises such as pubs and clubs. When the Office licenses these premises, it may place environmental noise conditions on the licence. These conditions typically include a requirement that the noise from pubs and clubs should not be heard inside any home between midnight and 7 am on any night. The Office can be contacted on (02) 9995 0894.

Noisy domestic equipment

The Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2008 specifies the times when noise from domestic activities should not be heard in a neighbour's home. If a person fails to comply with a warning from the police or council for operating noisy equipment, such as power tools, sound systems, musical instruments, air conditioners, pool pumps or heat pump water heaters, during restricted times, an on-the-spot fine may be issued.

An on-the-spot fine of $200 ($400 for corporations) may be imposed on anyone who continues to make noise up to 28 days after being warned to stop by an authorised EPA officer, the police, or a local council officer.

The times when these noisy appliances should not be used if they can be heard inside certain rooms of a neighbour's residence are listed in Table 1, with advice on who to contact if you need help.

Table 1: Time restrictions when noise from residential premises should not be heard inside a neighbour's residence

Noise source - from residential premises

Time restrictions when noise should not be heard in a habitable* room in a neighbour's residence

Contact

Power tools and equipment (powered garden tools; e.g. lawn mowers and leaf blowers; electric or pneumatic tools, chainsaws, circular saws, gas or air compressors and swimming pool or spa pumps)

Before 8 am and after 8 pm on Sundays and public holidays

Before 7 am and after 8 pm on any other day

Local council or police

Musical instruments and electrically amplified sound equipment (e.g. radios, TVs, tape recorders, CD and DVD players, and home theatre systems)

Before 8 am and after midnight on any Friday, Saturday or the day immediately before a public holiday

Before 8 am and after 10 pm on any other day

Local council or police

Air conditioners and heat pump water heaters

Before 8 am and after 10 pm on weekends and public holidays

Before 7 am and after 10 pm on any other day

Local council or police

Motor vehicles (except when entering or leaving residential premises)

Before 8 am and after 8 pm on weekends and public holidays

Before 7 am and after 8 pm on any other day

Local council or police

Refrigeration units fitted to motor vehicles**

Before 8 am and after 8 pm on weekends and public holidays

Before 7 am and after 8 pm on any other day

Local council or Police

* Habitable room means any room other than a garage, storage area, bathroom, laundry, toilet or pantry.

** This applies whether or not the vehicle is located on residential premises.

The penalty for breaching the legislation is $200 for individuals and $400 for corporations. The maximum penalty that a court can impose is $5500 for individuals and $11,000 for corporations. 

Outside these hours councils and police can still place restrictions on the use of these articles if they are causing 'offensive noise'.

Councils can control offensive noise by issuing prevention notices, noise control notices or noise abatement directions. Police can issue noise abatement directions or you may seek a noise abatement order from the local court.


Table 2: Noise from other sources - who to contact

Noise source

Contact

Industrial /commercial noise

Large industrial complexes

EPA Environment Line, phone: 131 555

Smaller factories and backyard workshops

Local council

Commercial premises - ventilation, air conditioning, refrigeration

Local council

Transport noise

Commercial airports and aircraft in flight

National Noise Enquiry Line: 1300 302 240

Aircraft on the ground at private and local council operated airports

Local council

Noisy motor vehicles (including trail bikes) in a public place, such as:

  • roads, verges and car parks
  • off road, including parks and reserves

EPA Environment Line, phone: 131 555, or 
Police Assistance Line, phone: 131 444, or
local council

Noisy motor vehicles (including trail bikes) on private property

Police Assistance Line, phone: 131 444, or
local council

Road traffic:

  • local roads
  • freeways, tollways, main roads

 

 

Local council
Roads and Maritime Services,
phone:1300 308 349

Rail noise

EPA Environment Line, phone: 131 555, or 
Rail Greenline, phone: 1300 656 999

Naval vessels

Defence Department, phone: 1300 333 362

Container and passenger ships

Ports Corporation: Sydney, phone: 9296 4999
Port Kembla, phone: 4275 0100
Newcastle, phone: 1800 048 205

Recreational boating, jet skis

Roads and Maritime Services,
phone: 131 256 

Amplified music from vessels

Roads and Maritime Services, phone: 131 256 or 
Water Police, phone: 9320 7499 or 
local council

Construction noise

Road construction:

  • freeways and tollways 
  • main roads  
  • other roads

 

 

EPA Environment Line, phone: 131 555
Roads and Maritime Services,
phone:1300 308 349
Local council

Building construction
Major public infrastructure

Local council
EPA Environment Line, phone: 131 555

Public sporting and entertainment venues

Motor sports and gun/rifle/pistol clubs

Local council

Sporting facilities (other than vessels)

Local council

Aquatic sporting events

Roads and Maritime Services, phone: 131 256

Concert facilities

Local council

Concerts at major state venues (e.g. SCG, the Domain, Centennial Park, Moore Park, Olympic Park)

EPA Environment Line, phone: 131 555

Neighbourhood noise

Noise in public places: animal noise, barking dogs

Local council or Police Assistance Line, phone: 131 444

Intruder alarms for buildings and vehicles

Local council or Police Assistance Line, phone: 131 444

How to prevent neighbourhood noise problems

What is music to your ears may just be noise to your neighbour. Try to make sure that your activities at home do not become a nuisance to others by showing them some consideration. People can become extremely upset by noise they have no control over. Noise can aggravate stress, particularly if sleep is disturbed, as fatigue can  result in heightened sensitivity and irritability. Here are some things you can do to keep the peace in your neighbourhood:

  • Let your neighbours know in advance if you are going to be doing something noisy like having a party, doing building work or using a chainsaw, etc. Most people appreciate the courtesy and will be less likely to complain. They can also get away from the noise if they really need to.
  • Be mindful of your neighbours when playing amplified music or using power tools etc, even within the times permitted by the Noise Regulation. Remember, offensive noise can occur at any time.
  • Keep the noise in your backyard or on your balcony down so it won’t disturb your neighbours, especially during the evening and at night.
  • Avoid revving your car's engine repeatedly when you turn on your car's ignition. Also, remember to turn the car stereo down when coming home late at night and try not to slam doors.
  • Choose quiet models when buying equipment such as air conditioners, hot water heat pumps, pool pumps and rainwater tank pumps.
  • Think about the impact on your neighbours when installing this equipment. Place air conditioners and hot water heat pumps away from your neighbour's bedroom and living room windows or have the equipment acoustically shielded to ensure neighbours are not affected. For more information see the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air-conditioning and Heating guidance: noise calculator.
  • Enclose pool and spa pumps to muffle the noise so it does not reach your neighbours and run pumps only when necessary within the permitted times.
  • Choose quiet models when purchasing or hiring garden equipment such as leaf blowers, string trimmers, edge cutters and lawn mowers.
  • If possible, use a broom or a rake instead of a leaf blower. If you must use a leaf blower, don't start too early, use it for short periods and avoid revving it repeatedly. These devices are often much quieter but just as effective when  used at around half the maximum power.

Contacts

Environment Protection Authority

EPA Environment Line 131 555

Councils

View a list of local councils
Contact details for all NSW councils can be found in the Local Government Directory on the Division of Local Government website.

Police

Police Assistance Line, phone: 131 444
View a list of local police stations
Police stations are listed under 'Police' in the Business and Government edition of the White Pages

Community Justice Centres

Phone: 1800 990 777
Fax: 8688 9616
Email: cjc_info@agd.nsw.gov.au
Website: www.cjc.nsw.gov.au
TTY: 1800 555 677
Address: Level 5, Parramatta Justice Precinct 160 Marsden Street, Parramatta NSW 2150

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Page last updated: 19 June 2014