Our noisy upstairs neighbours give us a headache: Will soundproofing work and if not is there any legal action we can take?

Me and my partner live in a converted flat and we can hear everything that my neighbors do above.

There are no carpets, so when they are walking it looks like an elephant is on top of us. When they hover it looks like someone is watching from the ceiling and when they do their workout, the windows shake.

We can hear almost every word when they’re speaking out loud or watching TV – and they love watching war movies late at night. He also has a dog, which barks frequently.

This Reader Says Her Upstairs Neighbors ‘Sound Like Elephants’ When Walking

We both have a share of freehold and the flat above and I have spoken to them about it before, but they say it is not an issue for them. Can anything be done to solve my problem?

Is there any point in trying to soundproof the ceiling, or is it more effective to do so from above – and how expensive would that be? Will this increase the value of my flat?

Are there any legal avenues I can explore, and as we share the freehold, would it be in my right to ask them to share some of the cost? Via email

Ed Magnus of this is money reply: Of all neighbor complaints, noise disputes are probably the most common.

Whether you live in a converted flat, a purpose-built apartment or a terraced house, neighbor noise can come from many directions.

Especially if you live in a busy city or town, a certain level of noise is unavoidable: We’ve all been woken up by pigeons settling, binmen screaming or car alarms ringing.

But there is something more offensive and disturbing about the noises coming through the walls, ceilings or floors of your neighbors.

The action you can take depends on the cause of the noise.

It’s not always the neighbor’s fault – especially when it comes to flats that have been converted from older homes.

Soundproofing regulations for residential homes came into force only in July 2003.

Are your neighbors breaking building rules with their noise?  For example, you can look at their leash to check if they are not allowed animals.

Are your neighbors breaking building rules with their noise? For example, you can look at their leash to check if they are not allowed animals.

These building rules apply to both new-build and flat conversions, as well as semi-detached and terraced housing.

They place certain requirements on separate walls, floors and ceilings between different properties.

If you believe your home violates these rules, you can take legal action against the developer or builder and potentially force them to pay for improvements.

For this you would need a sound test to prove that the noise was at an unacceptable level.

But unfortunately, the law does not apply retroactively – so if your flat was converted before 2003, no legal action can be taken.

If the noise problem can be proven to be antisocial behavior, you are within your rights to complain to the local council on the grounds that it is a statutory nuisance.

There are instances, including noise, loud music and barking dogs, that may warrant further investigation by the council, although the advice is to try to resolve the problem by talking to your neighbor before contacting the council.

If the council decides that your neighbor is causing a statutory noise nuisance, they should issue a notice to your neighbor explaining what they must do to stop or restrict the noise, and if they ignore it. They can be prosecuted or fined.

However, if the noise is coming from normal daily life and not from anti-social activities, then complaining to the council will almost certainly be unsuccessful.

To help answer our reader’s dilemma, we spoke to Homeowners Alliance Chief Executive Paula Higgins; Solicitors Stuart Miles of Hodge Jones and Allen Solicitors; Mike Hansom, Solicitor and Partner for Property Disputes at BLB Solicitors; Phil Lyons, Senior Technical Advisor for Soundproofing Stores; and David Westgate, Group Chief Executive Officer at Andrews Property Group.

What should be your first action?

Paula Higgins replies: It sounds like a cliché, but it’s usually a good idea to talk to your neighbors first.

When you approach them, it’s a good idea to have three examples of when they were making excessive noises hand-in-hand with dates.

Tell them how the noise affected you, but don’t blame – being calm and reasonable usually results in better results than confrontation.

Instead of saying, ‘You woke me up’, tell them, ‘I couldn’t sleep because of the noise that night.’

You should also tell them specifically how you want the problem to be resolved.

Are there any legal avenues to explore?

Stuart Miles replies: Your neighbor’s lease should be carefully examined to see if there are relevant clauses to help here.

This can be obtained from HM Land Registry for a nominal amount.

Some leases have clauses that may be relevant, such as not allowing animals to be kept without permission; the need to have carpets and underlays; and not to cause nuisance or annoyance to other occupants of the building.

The above clauses are just a few examples, and the terms vary from lease to lease.

Subject to the particular wording of the clause, and whether the neighbor has consent or license confirms that they do not comply with the relevant clause, legal action may be considered.

Even if there is no such clause in a neighbor’s lease, if the noise is at an unreasonable level and frequency, you can consider a nuisance claim and a violation of your right to quiet enjoyment.

Noise Pollution: Being able to hear your neighbor's every move can be a major annoyance

Noise Pollution: Being able to hear your neighbor’s every move can be a major annoyance

How does a nuisance claim work?

Mike Hansom replies: In addition to giving you the right to take legal action against your neighbor, the local authority has an obligation to investigate, and where appropriate, take enforcement action to prevent any statutory nuisance.

However, a nuisance claim will not be successful if the neighbors are…


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