Noisy Neighbourhoods are Tolerated Differently

Private Property South Africa
Anna-Marie Smith

Various types and levels of noise, at all hours, affect individual members of communities differently.

Whether such noise arise from within immediate neighbourhoods, nearby entertaining establishments, suburban clubs, building sites or state properties such as air fields, schools and navy premises. The question is what constitutes excessive levels of noise?

Law enforcement can only be applied from the perspective of, whether such noise has a detrimental effect on the quality of a person/s life, physical and/or mental health, or simply their overall well being. The degree of persistence, the time of day, and the exact location from where noise originates, often dictates the tolerance levels of what is perceived as reasonable.

High tolerance levels occur in close knit communities, where regular communication leads enjoyable living environments allowing residents to happily turn deaf ears to innocuous noise levels. Such as the sounds of toddler play groups, or teenage jamming sessions of would-be rock stars, and even loud music events at wine farms and public picnic areas. Understandably then, different tolerance levels to the noises coming from a home panel beating business, or potentially mind numbing echoing sounds of all night trans-parties.

In Cape Town, the city’s Noise Control Regulations and Public Nuisance By-law says noise disturbances relate to residents’ loss of reasonable enjoyment of property. Or when a serious impediment of such enjoyment occurs, relating to the ordinary standards of comfort and convenience, or peace of any person. However, this has to take place without any peculiar sensitivity of a particular individual, should the occurring noise not be deemed quite intolerable by others from the same distance.

Good reason then for occupants of properties to bear in mind those factors not within their control when deciding on a choice of residential area. In the case of commercial building sites in suburban areas, where motorised transport is used, having access to operating schedules may be essential. When noise levels have been regarded to be above legal limits for residential areas, objections in the light of a constitutional right to privacy and comfort have taken place. Such as, high levels of constant noise heard along coastal motorways, caused by fast moving heavy vehicles. Or noise caused by the firing of guns and canons at the SA Naval Base in Simons Town, resulting in rescue operations of sensitive animals.

Noise Exemption criteria as per the Noise Control Regulations differs, depending on varying tolerance levels in different communities, day of the week, cut-off time, and the nature and size of an event.

A positive impact as the result of transparent communication, well ahead of potential noise disturbances, is mostly seen. Higher levels of noise tolerance occur, when event organisers submit applications for exemptions inclusive of written comment received during public participation processes. Typical examples of upmarket outdoor events occur around Kirstenbosch Gardens, Noordhoek and Stellenbosch, where informed residents frequently experience the sounds of live musical entertainment, as the result of the temporary lifting of Noise Control Regulations.

Pubs, clubs and restaurants have to apply for a Place of Entertainment Licence from City Health, specifying the adequate sound proofing of premises, where exceptions and conditions apply, depending on the nature of the music. Transgressions of noise limitations are followed up by various city departments, including health, law enforcement and SAPS in the form of notices, fines or summonses to court.

Violations of the Noise Control Regulations are determined by a Magistrate, such as ambient noise levels exceeding more than 7 decibels regarded a ‘disturbance’ in terms of the Public Nuisances By-law. Serious offences, ranging from large fines to imprisonment may be imposed by presiding magistrates.

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