Stop and listen for a moment. You might hear construction sounds, a dog barking, a lawnmower running, people shouting, or other neighbourhood noise. But how much noise is too much? Learn what to do when your neighbour’s noise crosses the line of what is “acceptable” and disturbs your peace and quiet.
When neighbourhood noise crosses the line
Some noise in a neighbourhood is normal — none of us has the right to complete silence. Sometimes, though, everyday noise crosses the line. When it does, it can negatively affect your sleep, concentration, memory, job performance, health, and your emotional well-being.
How much noise is too much, though? We all experience life differently, and what bothers you may not bother someone else. That’s what makes the question tricky. Generally, we can expect a level of sound in the neighbourhood that’s reasonable. But, when someone’s noise unreasonably interferes with your quiet enjoyment of your property, the law calls this a nuisance.
Whether a noise is a nuisance or not depends on what the noise is, how loud it is, and how often it happens. It also depends on the nature of the neighbourhood and the property. You’d expect more noise if you live near the airport or train station than in a typical residential neighbourhood.
Generally, the law tries to balance noise from everyday activities with residents’ rights to peace and quiet enjoyment of their properties.
The volume of a sound is measured in “decibels” (dB). As you can see from our chart below, everyday conversation is about 60 dB. A vacuum cleaner is 75 dB. A lawn mower is 90 dB, and a loud rock concert can hit above 120 dB. In general, sounds above 85 dB are harmful, depending on how long and how often you’re exposed to them, and whether you wear hearing protection. HealthLinkBC has more information about harmful noise levels.
Noise laws vary
Throughout BC, there are laws that deal with noise. But they may differ depending on:
- where you live and which municipality you live in,
- the type of housing you live in (whether an apartment building, a duplex, co-op housing, a single-family home, and so on), and
- whether you’re a tenant.
Too much noise may actually be considered a crime if it disturbs your peace and quiet. You may be bothered by your neighbour screaming, shouting, swearing, or singing loudly from time to time. But if it starts happening frequently, and especially on weekends or late in the evening, then it may become a disturbance — an offence under the Canadian Criminal Code. In that case, you can call the police and report it.
Understanding noise laws can help you learn your rights and figure out what steps to take to resolve your dispute.
Municipal bylaws about noise
“My neighbour regularly used his portable leaf-blower around 7:30 pm in the evening. I talked to him and explained that my kids go to bed at that time and they were having trouble falling asleep because of the noise. He didn’t take my complaint seriously, even after I wrote him a letter. I looked at the local bylaws relating to noise and found that hand-held leaf-blowers can’t be used within 50 m of a residence after 6:00 pm from Monday to Friday and after 5:00 pm on Saturdays (or at all on Sundays). I complained to the city. They issued a fine to my neighbour! He bought a quieter leaf-blower and now only uses it on Saturday mornings.”
– Arwin, Vancouver, BC
Many cities and towns have rules restricting noise from construction, vehicles, equipment, animals, people, and more. If you can’t enjoy your home because of a neighbour’s noise, check your municipality’s noise control laws or bylaws. See if any apply to your situation.
Municipalities typically set noise limits. How much noise is acceptable is based on:
- where you live
- where the noise is coming from
- what’s making the noise
- what time and day the noise is occurring
- how often the noise is occurring
Many municipalities have bylaws about noise from construction, garbage and recycling trucks, and equipment (such as leaf blowers). Noise from these potentially bothersome sources can’t be above a certain sound level. And it’s only allowed during specific hours and on certain days. (Although noise bylaw exception permits may be available in some communities.)
There’s also everyday noise, like dogs barking and people playing loud music and having loud parties. Some municipal bylaws set out acceptable limits for noise from such common activities. There may be “quiet hours,” for example, from 11:00 pm to 7:00 am. But other municipalities have more general bylaws. They simply say “don't unreasonably disturb the peace and quiet of your neighbours.”
For information on the noise laws in your community, call 3-1-1. You can also contact your local municipality directly, or check their website.
On the website CivicInfo BC, you can search across local government websites province-wide to find local bylaws relating to noise in your community and who you can talk to about noise concerns. In the search box, type in “report noise [community name]” or “noise bylaw [community name].”
If you live in a strata
“Whenever my neighbour left her dog at home, it would bark all the time. It can bark for two hours straight! I work from home and it really bothered me — I couldn’t concentrate or get very much done. I talked to my neighbour about it. Unfortunately, nothing really changed. I wrote her a letter, but the dog still barked whenever she was out. I started keeping a journal of when and for how long her dog barked, and even made a recording of it. I filed a complaint with the strata. They investigated and fined my neighbour $500 because she violated the strata’s noise bylaws.”
– Jas, Surrey, BC
In strata buildings — whether they’re apartments, townhouses, or duplexes — neighbours live in close quarters. So it’s no surprise that the most common type of complaint is noise. Whether it’s loud music or voices from the unit next door, dogs barking, kids playing and running around, or heavy footsteps echoing from the unit above, neighbours in a strata find loud, frequent noise to be a problem.
If you can’t use and enjoy your home because of the nature and frequency of the sounds routinely coming from your neighbour’s unit, check your strata’s noise bylaws. These typically prohibit owners, tenants, and others from using their unit or the common property in a way that:
- causes a nuisance to another person,
- causes unreasonable noise, or
- unreasonably interferes with others’ rights to use and enjoy their unit or the common property.
Getting a copy of your strata bylaws
Every strata must have bylaws. The Schedule of Standard Bylaws is a BC law that applies to all stratas, unless a strata has chosen to use different bylaws. Strata bylaws can help you understand and resolve your noise dispute.
If you don’t have a copy of your strata’s current bylaws, you can get one from:
- Your strata. The bylaws are free to inspect, but there may be fees for copies. The strata must give you all current bylaws within one week of your request.
- The land title registry. You have to pay a fee to get the bylaws. Sometimes only amendments are filed here, not the complete bylaws.
For more information on finding strata documents and records, check the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal’s guide on how to find strata documents.
If you’re a tenant in a strata, you and your landlord must follow BC landlord and tenant law. As a renter, you must also follow BC law about stratas and the strata's bylaws and rules. You might have to pay fines and fees to the strata if, for example, you disturb your neighbours. The BC government website explains the rights of tenants in stratas.
If you’re a tenant
The law says you have the right to be free from unreasonable disturbance caused by your neighbour’s noise. Your tenancy agreement also probably says you have the right to quiet enjoyment. Altogether, this means you have the right to enjoy peace and quiet in your rental home.
Neighbours can make temporary noise (like vacuuming) that may be irritating and inconvenient. But an upstairs tenant or homeowner who routinely has the TV blaring and who often stomps and drops things on their hardwood floor is pushing their luck. They may be causing an unreasonable disturbance for you if you’re regularly unable to concentrate, have friends over, or sleep.
If you have a dispute about noise with your landlord or another tenant, check the law. Also look at your tenancy agreement. (Your landlord must give you a copy of it.) If your neighbour is breaking the agreement or the law, you can take legal action. You may be able to get an order stopping the neighbour from making noise. In some cases, they may even have to compensate you for your suffering. Depending on the nature of the noise complaint, you could also call the police.
Step 1. Talk with your neighbour
Your neighbour’s noise is just too much. There’s no escaping it and you’re frustrated. But at the same time you want to keep things civil between the two of you (after all, you’re neighbours). What can you do?
The first step is to talk with them. Your neighbour may not actually be aware that the noise is disturbing you or causing a problem. Maybe they have a new baby. Or maybe they don’t hear the high-pitched whining their old TV makes because they’re a bit hard of hearing. They may simply not realize how loud, irritating, or disturbing you’re finding the noise.
That said, raising the issue directly with your neighbour may not be easy. To prepare for the conversation, think about how to talk to your neighbour. Discussing the matter with your neighbour calmly and respectfully can be a good start, and might just resolve the matter right away.
If there’s a particular noise that’s bothering you, describe it and explain how and why it bothers you. If you have a specific type of work situation (for example, you work from home or you sleep during the day because you work at night), tell your neighbour. This can help them understand where you’re coming from and why you want the noise to stop. Ask for their thoughts. Invite them to talk about options that will work for both of you. You can follow up in writing if you and your neighbour reach an agreement.
Step 2. Document your noise complaint
If talking with your neighbour didn’t work (or isn’t a possibility) but their noise is still disturbing you, gather evidence to support your noise complaint. You might:
- Record the noise. Measure the dB level with a sound meter or a phone app.
- Make notes. Keep a log of the date, time, type of noise, and the impact on you.
- Seek backup. See your doctor about the impact the noise might be having on you. Or have a friend or family member come over, listen to the noise, and make notes of what they heard.
- Do research. Check your local noise control bylaws, strata bylaws, or other noise-related laws.
- Hire an acoustic engineer. Have them come measure the noise level. They can then compare it to normal levels, identify where the noise is coming from, suggest changes, and write it all up in a report.
Stay organized. Keep all your evidence in one place, like in a file folder or on your phone or computer.
Step 3. Write a letter to your neighbour
Once you’ve gathered evidence to support your noise complaint, write a letter to your neighbour setting out your concerns. For example, say your upstairs neighbour plays loud music several hours a day and also late into the night. In the letter, you could:
- Explain your specific concerns and the impact on you. For example: the music your neighbour plays is so loud you can hear the words. You work from home, can’t concentrate, and often develop headaches. At night, you can’t sleep, even with earplugs.
- Provide evidence of the noise. Give your neighbour a copy of the noise log you’ve been keeping. Attach your local noise laws, bylaws, or rules.
- Suggest ways the situation might be resolved. Ask your neighbour if they can try headphones. Or can they invest in some sort of soundproofing, like a rug or curtains? If your neighbour is a tenant, you could ask the property owner to look into more structural soundproofing.
- Describe what will happen if they outright refuse. You will (for example) contact the appropriate housing authority. This could be the landlord or strata council, your local municipality, or the police. Or you’ll start a legal action.
We have a short template letter to help get you started. We also have a more detailed template letter you can fill out and give to your neighbour about the noise. Each letter can be adapted to your situation.
Step 4. Try a dispute resolution service
If you’re unable to resolve the matter directly with your neighbour, consider mediation. This involves you and your neighbour meeting with a neutral third party (a mediator) who’ll work to help you reach an agreement. Mediation is quicker and much less expensive than a court action. And it can help preserve a good neighbourly relationship.
On the Mediate BC website, you can search for a mediator based on the community you live in and the type of problem you have. Selecting “Community” under Practice Areas can help narrow your search.
Step 5. Contact your property manager, strata council, or landlord
If mediation isn’t successful or practical in the circumstances, you can write a letter to your:
- building manager or concierge (if, for example, you live in a co-op or a strata),
- property manager or strata council, if you live in an apartment, condo, or townhome you own, or
- landlord, if you’re a tenant.
In your letter, describe your noise complaint. This is much like the letter to your neighbour (see the section above). Explain your concerns and give evidence of the noise. Describe how you’ve tried to resolve the matter with the neighbour and what outcome you’re seeking with help from your building manager, strata council, or landlord.
If you live in a strata
Your strata council is ultimately responsible for investigating and responding to your bylaw complaints. They have a legal duty to enforce the strata bylaws and to make fair and reasonable decisions. If they fail to investigate a complaint and enforce the noise bylaws, they may have to pay you compensation.
When you send your letter to the strata council or property management company, the law says they must:
- present it to the strata council at a properly convened council meeting, and
- give the neighbour written details about the complaint.
The letter should include an invitation to either respond to the complaint or attend a council hearing.
If the strata ultimately finds that the noise bylaw or rule has been broken, they could give your neighbour a warning or a fine (up to $200 per incident if the strata’s bylaws permit this maximum fine). Or, the strata could do what is reasonably necessary to fix the problem and then ask your neighbour to pay for the reasonable costs of doing so.
The BC government website sets out steps of enforcement that a person with a strata bylaw complaint (including noise) can take. The BC Office of Housing and Construction Standards has a complaint resolution guide which has information about dealing with strata bylaw complaints, including noise.
If you’re a tenant
If you have a noise complaint, you can write a letter to the landlord for help. Standard rental and lease agreements usually contain a clause about quiet enjoyment. This clause gives you the right to live in your rental home in peace, quiet, and privacy. It also requires that you (and any children you have) don’t unreasonably disturb your neighbours.
As a tenant, you can use the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre’s template letter to write a letter to the landlord to explain how your right to quiet enjoyment has been affected.
Your landlord must investigate your noise complaint. If they’re aware of the noise and don’t take reasonable steps to protect your right to quiet enjoyment, you can take them to dispute resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch. If you prove your claim, you could get monetary compensation.
Step 6. Contact your local municipality
If your neighbour’s noise continues, contact your municipality. If there’s a local bylaw dealing with noise that’s being broken, you can file a complaint.
For example, in Vancouver, construction on private property can occur between certain hours from Monday to Saturday, but isn't permitted on Sundays. If your neighbour has been doing construction on their property for the past three Sundays (for example), you can file a complaint with the city.
Usually, the municipality’s bylaw enforcement officer will try to solve the problem informally. If they can’t, they could give your neighbour a fine. Fines vary by municipality and type of noise. For instance, in the city of Vancouver, the neighbour could receive a fine of at least $500 for violating local bylaws about construction.
To file a complaint with your local municipality, call 311. Or fill out an online form on your municipality’s website (if available). Generally, you must provide your contact information but it is kept confidential.
Step 7. Contact the police
If your neighbour is causing a disturbance — especially late in the evening or on a weekend — call the non-emergency police line to report it. Try to do so while the noise is actually happening. But also consider whether it’s worth it. Calling the police can escalate the conflict with your neighbour.
Step 8. Consider legal action
If none of the steps above have resolved the problem, it may be time to consider legal action. If you’ve told your neighbour about the noise but it continues to disturb your peace and quiet, you can start a nuisance action. If you’re a tenant, you can file a claim in the Residential Tenancy Branch.
But think carefully about this option. Taking legal action (especially court action) can be a long, expensive, and stressful process. And there’s no guarantee you’ll win. For example, a noise may be permitted by zoning or custom (in an industrial or agricultural area). Or a court or tribunal may decide that there isn’t enough evidence of a nuisance.
If you do prove your claim, you may get an order for compensation. The court or tribunal can also order other remedies, like requiring the neighbour to stop the noise. Or the strata might be told to hire a structural engineer.
If your claim is for less than $5,000 (or is a strata dispute), you can bring it to the Civil Resolution Tribunal. This online system is inexpensive and encourages a collaborative approach to resolving disputes through use of a "solution explorer" and a mediation component.
If your claim is for between $5,000 and $35,000, you can bring a legal action in Small Claims Court. This is faster and less complicated than suing in the British Columbia Supreme Court. But, consider this option in a very serious case only (as compensation generally in neighbour nuisance cases is not high).
Taking legal action against a neighbour will almost certainly strain your relationship — no small matter since you’re living next to one another. Think of it as a last resort.
How can I deal with my neighbour’s noise?
You might be trying to enjoy some quiet time at home. Or maybe you’re working from home or trying to get some sleep during the day because you work at night. Regardless, your neighbour’s noise is disturbing you. You can start with some self-help steps:
- If the noise is outside, temporarily close all your windows and doors.
- Wear ear plugs.
- Invest in noise-cancelling headphones.
- Mask the sound with calm music or a white noise machine.
- Soundproof your home (though this may be costly).
You’re responsible for the cost of these self-help measures. But, you could try asking your neighbour to share the cost of the more expensive options.
There are also a range of other steps you can take, from contacting your neighbour to taking legal action. See the “Work out problems” section above.
Who can I report noise concerns to?
Usually, you contact your local municipality to report a neighbourhood noise problem. But, there are also other agencies you can reach out to. Who you might decide to contact depends on the type of noise you’re concerned about.
If the noise is coming from
Barking dogs, loud music, construction or equipment on private property
Car or house alarms
Your strata building
Helicopters or seaplanes
Who you contact can also depend on what time of day it is. If your local municipality usually helps with noise issues, but it’s after business hours (after 4:30 pm, on the weekend, or a holiday, for example), then you can contact your local police department at their non-emergency number.
I live in a strata. My upstairs neighbour has a loud air conditioner. I’ve tried talking to them about it but they just ignore me. What can I do?
If your neighbour’s air conditioner affects your ability to live in and enjoy your own apartment, see what your strata bylaws say about noise. If you can’t relax, watch TV, entertain, or sleep, the noise might be considered unreasonable. If that’s the case and you’ve tried communicating with your neighbour, you can:
- try some self-help methods, such as earplugs or a white noise machine,
- continue gathering evidence of the noise disturbance, and
- contact your strata council and make a complaint.
If your neighbour is breaking the bylaws, they may have to pay a fine. Depending on the situation and the result of your strata complaint, you may decide to take legal action. Your neighbour (or even the strata) may have to pay you compensation for your trouble if you prove your claim.
The Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (TRAC) provides information about residential tenancy law to tenants across British Columbia.
Call 604-255-0546 or 1-800-665-1185 (toll free)
Mediate BC keeps a searchable list of mediators in British Columbia.
Call 1-877-656-1300 (toll-free)
PovNet has a searchable list of legal advocates experienced with providing legal information. Many have experience with housing issues and can help with negotiation, writing letters, filling out forms, and more.
Other options for legal help include pro bono services and legal clinics. See our options for free and low-cost legal help.