There will always be a certain amount of noise in any neighbourhood. Whether or not this becomes a problem is usually a question of degree and, to some extent, intent. In some cases, legal action against noisy neighbours may be possible.
If a neighbour is making excessive or unreasonable noise, a person can complain to the Environmental Health section of their local council. An enforcement officer will generally investigate the complaint to determine what action should be taken.
Note: Excessive noise is “noise under human control and of such a nature as to unreasonably interfere with the peace, comfort, and convenience of any person (other than a person in, or at, the place from which the noise is being emitted)”, but it does not include noise from aircrafts, vehicles on the road, or trains.
If excessive noise is being made (for example, loud music at a party), an enforcement officer can issue an Excessive Noise Direction requiring the noise to be reduced to a reasonable level.
The direction takes effect straight away and lasts for 72 hours.
If the neighbour fails to comply with the direction, the enforcement officer can return with the police and seize and remove the source of the noise, such as a stereo.
Unlike Excessive Noise Directions, councils usually issue Abatement Notices in response to ongoing noise problems that can’t be reduced immediately – for example, noise from a factory. Usually a council will have measured noise levels over a period of time.
An enforcement officer can issue an Abatement Notice where there is unreasonable noise which is having an adverse effect on the environment.
What is “unreasonable” noise will depend on local council standards set out in rules, plans and resource consents.
The Abatement Notice requires the unreasonable noise to be stopped or reduced to a reasonable level within a specified period. An Abatement Notice can order that an occupier of land adopt the best practicable option of ensuring that noise does not exceed a reasonable level.
The notice lasts indefinitely, unless the local council cancels it or the notice is successfully appealed in the Environment Court.
Under the Resource Management Act 1991, any person can apply to the Environment Court for an Enforcement Order to stop an activity that causes, or may cause, excessive or unreasonable noise. Generally the applicant will need expert advice (for example, from an acoustic consultant) about the levels of noise.