From time to time everyone is likely to make noise either working, playing or celebrating, but excessive noise can be a problem.

What is noise?

Generally, this is a sound which is loud, unpleasant or undesired. Noise is sound. Sound is noise. In most situations people tend to complain about other people’s noise, where it is interfering with enjoyment of their enjoyment of activities, and it is quite subjective for this reason. After all, noise to one person may be music to another’s ears.

Are there laws controlling noise?

Yes. This is mostly controlled by the Resource Management Act 1991 and generally comes under the category of ‘excessive’ or ‘unreasonable’ noise. The District Plan also requires certain noise limits within defined areas; for example, a residential environment has lower noise limits compared to an industrial area. Note that during construction, additional noise may be permitted at certain times due to the short duration of the construction project.

What is excessive noise?

The Resource Management Act 1991 defines this as noise that is under the control of any person and which unreasonably interferes with the peace, comfort and convenience of any person. Generally this sort of noise is very loud, but it can include vibration by definition, may be going for long periods, and is likely to be clearly heard from inside your house when the doors and windows are closed.

The effects of excessive noise will also depend upon the nature of the noise and the time of day it occurs – for instance, a noise which may be acceptable during daytime may not be tolerated at night, such as when loud music from a stereo keeps you awake. Excessive noise is determined by a subjective assessment by the enforcement officer; in other words, if it sounds loud to the officer then an action can be taken. This sort of noise is not measured with a noise meter.

What is unreasonable noise?

In general terms, this type of noise will exceed the noise standards in the District Plan but is not really so loud that it can be deemed to be excessive noise. Unreasonable noise generally requires the level to be monitored using a noise meter before any actions can be considered.

Are there times when I can make as much noise as I like?

No. At all times of day or night, occupiers and/or owners of properties have a responsibility to control noise from their property to ensure that the noise is reasonable and not excessive.

What about lawn mowing, chain sawing and things like that?

There are certain activities which are considered reasonable and necessary – within reason. Lawns need to be mowed and shrubs or trees may need to be trimmed in residential areas. The necessary mowing of lawns or the trimming of trees at a reasonable time would be considered acceptable and noise standards would not be applied. If, however, circumstances were not reasonable (such as mowing lawns at night, deliberately setting the mower going and not cutting grass, or chain sawing for long periods in a residential area), that would not be acceptable and would possibly be subject to noise controls.

If I have a complaint, what do I do?

First, discuss the matter with your neighbour and let them know what the problem is. See if you can resolve it together. It often helps neighbourly relationships by discussing these things first, rather than your neighbour finding out only when a Council officer visits them.

Sometimes discussion is not a suitable option, in which case you can contact the Council on 06 323 0000 and give the details of your concerns. If your call relates to excessive noise associated with a party or a stereo, every effort will be made to investigate within 30-60 minutes of the call being received, day or night. If the noise is associated with industry or similar activities, the matter will be referred to an Environmental Health Officer who will investigate the issue during normal working hours.

What happens if the noise recurs after my first call?

You will need to ring the Council back when the noise is happening so that appropriate action can be considered or taken at the time. This is particularly important when it relates to excessive noise from parties or stereos and needs immediate follow-up.

What actions can be taken by the Council to solve my noise problem?

For one-off excessive noise issues (such as from a party or a stereo), the Council’s officers will assess the noise. If it is deemed to be excessive, the officer will ask the occupier to turn down the music (or noise) immediately. This direction to ensure the noise remains at the reduced level can last up to 72 hours, and it may be given verbally or in a written format. If a further complaint is substantiated during the time the direction is in effect, the officers may deliver a further direction for the noise makers to cease making excessive noise, or the equipment used in making the noise may be seized by officers in the presence of the police.

There is a fee for the release of the equipment, and the equipment’s return may be refused in some circumstances, such as where this is a repetitive problem. Remember that if the noise problem recurs – be it five minutes or five days after our visit – you should ring the Council immediately on 06 323 0000 so that it can be reinvestigated. Infringement notices can also be issued when noise makers fail to comply with an officer’s directions to cease making excessive noise.

What about commercial or industrial noise?

Once the details have been received, an Environmental Health Officer will need to investigate the matter. This may include visiting the site and discussing the issue with the business owners. If matters cannot be resolved at this point, it may be necessary to take noise readings before taking further action. Written correspondence and notices may be issued. The recipients of notices have a right of appeal to the Environment Court.

It can take a long time to gain evidence about a noise issue before an infringement can be issued or court action can be undertaken.

Does the Council control noise from vehicles driven on roads?

No, the Council does not deal with noise from vehicles while on the road. However, the police can take a number of steps to deter those who fit noisy exhausts or drive in a manner which creates excessive noise, including instant fines and demerit points.