This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

Noise Restrictions (NSW)


In residential areas of New South Wales there are noise restrictions that relate to the type, timing, duration and frequency of noise. Excessive noise is a common problem that results in resource-intensive compliance action. This article deals with noise restrictions in residential settings.

Legislation

Noise is defined under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997, and includes sound and vibration.

The Act defines “offensive noise” as 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.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for renewing and updating the Act. It shares responsibility for enforcement of noise restrictions with local government, NSW Police and NSW Roads and Maritime Services.

An offence is committed when noise continues after a warning has been given by a council, police or EPA officer.

Residential premises

The Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2017 specifies when noise from domestic activities should not be heard by neighbours.

  • Power tools and equipment: not before 7am and after 8pm; not before 8am and after 8pm Sundays and public holidays;
  • Musical instruments and amplified sound equipment: not before 7am and after 8pm; not before 8am and after midnight on any Friday, Saturday or the day immediately before a public holiday;
  • Air conditioners and heat pump water heaters: not before 7am and after 10pm; not before 8am and after 10pm on weekends and public holidays;
  • Motor vehicles: not before 7am and after 8pm; not before 8am and after 8pm on weekends and public holidays;
  • Refrigeration units fitted to motor vehicles: not before 7am and after 8pm; not before 8am and after 8pm on weekends and public holidays.

The penalty for a breach is a $200 fine for an individual, or a $400 fine for a corporation. The maximum penalty a court can impose is a $5500 fine for an individual or an $11,000 fine for a corporation.

Common noise complaints

The most common noise complains are complaints relating to dogs, alarms and motor vehicles.

Dogs

Noise complaints in residential areas often relate to barking dogs. If mediation with a dog owner is unsuccessful, the local council can be asked to investigate. After examining evidence, if a council officer investigates and decides the complaint is justified, they can issue a nuisance order to the dog owner, under the Companion Animals Act 1988. The order, which remains in force for six months, must state the nature of the nuisance and what needs to be done to rectify it.

If the owner does not comply with the order, they can be fined up to $880 for the first offence and up to $1650 for each subsequent offence.

Alarms

Intruder alarms used in cars and buildings can often disturb neighbours. The council or police can issue a penalty notice for an alarm that sounds continuously or intermittently. The penalty for an individual is:

  • $200 if the alarm sounds for up to 4 hours;
  • $400 if the alarm sounds for 4 to 8 hours;
  • $600 if it sounds for longer than 8 hours.

Vehicles

Vehicle noise includes noise from exhaust systems, engines, horns, brakes and sounds systems. Offensive noise can be due to a lack of maintenance, deliberate tampering or inappropriate use. There is a range of offences and penalties under the Act, and the Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Act 1999.

Enforcement

There are many enforcement options available to authorities when noise restrictions are not obeyed. These include a prevention notice and a noise abatement order or direction.

Prevention notice

Under s 96 of the Act, the local council can serve this notice on a person or business requiring them to control offensive noise and advising them of acceptable noise levels. An on-the-spot fine of $750 can be issued to an individual, and a $1500 fine to a corporation for a breach.

Noise abatement order

Under s 268 of the Act, this order can be issued by a local court to stop or prevent offensive noise. It is issued independently of other regulators when other methods to stop the offensive noise have failed.

Evidence must prove the offensive noise has occurred and is likely to recur. This can include witness statements. Approval from the court registrar is needed to register the application notice, and an $83 fee must be paid.

If the court chooses to proceed, both parties to the complaint must attend a hearing. If a noise abatement order is issued, the person must stop making the offensive noise and the applicant can apply for a costs order. Breaching a noise abatement order is a criminal offence.

Noise abatement direction

Under s 278 of the Act, this direction can be issued when offensive noise is a one-off problem.

This direction:

  • directs a person to stop making the noise;
  • can be issued at any time of the day or night;
  • can remain in force for up to 28 days;
  • cannot be appealed.

Police and council officers can issue an on-the-spot fine of $200 for an individual or $400 for a corporation for non-compliance. They can also seize equipment used to make the noise.

If you require advice or representation in any matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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