Noise and neighbours

What are my rights?

My neighbour plays her music and TV at full blast for hours every day. I'm frustrated because I can't do anything about this. Or ... wait. Can I?
  • Yes
  • No

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.

What you should know

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.

When sound goes from acceptable to harmful

The volume of a sound is measured in decibels (dB). As you can see in the 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 on harmful noise levels.

Infographic showing how loud is too loud

Noise laws vary depending on your community and your housing situation

Throughout BC, there are laws that deal with noise. But they may differ depending on:

  • the municipality you live in,

  • the neighbourhood 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.

We'll walk you through how these factors affect what noise laws come into play.

First, though, one law that applies to everyone. 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 at hours you'd expect quiet (such as late at night), then it may become a disturbance — an offence under the Canadian Criminal Code. In that case, you can call the police and report it.

Municipal bylaws about noise

“My neighbour regularly used his portable leaf-blower in the evenings. I talked to him about how my kids were having trouble falling asleep because of the noise. He didn’t take my complaint seriously. I looked at the local noise bylaw and found that hand-held leaf blowers can’t be used within 50 metres of a residence in the evening. 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

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, you can check your municipality’s local noise bylaws to 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 pm to 7 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, you can call 3-1-1. You can also contact your local municipality directly, or check their website.

Find your local noise bylaw

On the website CivicInfo BC, you can search across local government websites province-wide to find local bylaws relating to noise in your community. In the search box, type in noise bylaw and the name of your community. For example, to find noise bylaws for Kelowna, you could type noise bylaw kelowna.

If you live in a strata

“Whenever my neighbour left her dog at home, it barked constantly. I work from home and it really bothered me — I couldn’t concentrate. I talked to my neighbour about it. I even wrote her a letter and shared a (two-hour!) recording of the barking. But nothing changed; the dog still barked whenever she was out. Finally, I decided to file a complaint with the strata. They investigated and fined my neighbour $200 because she violated the strata’s noise bylaws.”

– Jas, Delta, BC

In strata buildings — whether they’re condos, 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 from the unit next door, dogs barking, 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 law governing stratas in BC has a set of standard bylaws that applies to all stratas, unless a strata has chosen to use different bylaws.

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

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

As 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 or who often stomps on their hardwood floor is pushing their luck. They may be causing an unreasonable disturbance for you if their noise levels are regularly preventing you from sleeping or concentrating or enjoying your home.

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 complain to the landlord or take legal action. Below, under work out problems, we explain how. Depending on the nature of the noise complaint, you could also call the police.

Work out problems

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 the noise is disturbing you or causing a problem. Maybe they have a new baby. Or maybe they play the TV loudly because they’re hard of hearing.

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.

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.   

To help you prepare for the conversation, we offer tips for talking with your neighbour and a template for preparing for the talk.

Step 2. Document your noise complaint

If talking with your neighbour didn’t work (or isn’t a possibility) and 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 bylaws dealing with noise, any 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 you play is so loud I can hear the words. I work from home, can’t concentrate, and often develop headaches. At night, I can’t sleep, even with earplugs. 

  • Provide evidence of the noise. For example: Here's a copy of a noise log I've been keeping. And here's what our local bylaw says about noise.

  • Suggest ways the situation might be resolved. For example: Have you considered trying headphones? Or investing in some sort of soundproofing, like a rug or curtains?

  • Describe what will happen if they outright refuse. For example: I'm prepared to contact the landlord or municipality to complain.

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 legal action. And it can help preserve a good neighbourly relationship.

Finding a mediator

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 area can help narrow your search. 

You can also look into whether your municipality has a local community mediation program. For example, there is the Burnaby Mediation Centre and the North Vancouver Community Mediation Services Society.

Step 5. Contact your strata council or landlord

Depending on your living situation, you can write a letter to your:

  • strata council, if you live in a condo or other strata that 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 the strata council or landlord. 

If you live in a strata

The strata council has 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 a letter to the strata council, 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. 

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.

Making a complaint in a strata

We walk you through the steps involved in making a complaint to your strata council.

If you’re a tenant

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, you might consider contacting 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 contact your municipality. 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.

If none of these steps 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.

But think carefully about this option. Taking legal 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 a court or tribunal may decide there isn’t enough evidence of a nuisance.

If you do prove your claim, you may get an order for compensation. (But be aware that compensation in neighbour nuisance cases is not generally high.) The court or tribunal can also order other remedies, like requiring the neighbour to stop the noise.

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.

If your claim is for between $5,000 and $35,000, you can bring a legal action in Small Claims Court.

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. 

Common questions

How can I deal with my neighbour’s noise?

If 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 talking with your neighbour to taking legal action. See work out problems, 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 contact depends on the type of noise you’re concerned about.  

If the noise is coming fromContact
Barking dogs, loud music, construction or equipment on private propertyYour local municipality 
Car or house alarmsYour local police
Your strata buildingYour strata council or building manager
Helicopters or seaplanesTransport Canada
AirplanesYour local airport

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.

In my strata, can I do anything about my neighbour's loud air conditioner?

If your neighbour’s air conditioner affects your ability to live in and enjoy your own unit, 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.

Who can help

Helpful agencies

Tenant Resource & Advisory Centre (TRAC)
Help and advice for tenants experiencing legal problems.
Mediate BC
To search their list of mediators in BC, select community under practice areas.
PovNet
PovNet features a map tool to help find an advocate.

  • Reviewed in June 2020
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 16 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Lisa Frey, Lawson Lundell LLP

Lisa Frey

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