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.