We investigate complaints about issues that could be a ‘statutory nuisance’ according to the Environmental Protection Act 1990 ('the Act').
If we agree that a statutory nuisance is happening, has happened or will happen in the future, we will take action (usually on the person responsible) to stop the nuisance and prevent it from happening again.
The Act states that where the following situations are prejudicial to health or cause a nuisance, then they are classed as a 'statutory nuisance':
- premises in a poor a state
- smoke, fumes or gases from premises
- dust, steam, smells etc. from industrial, trade or business premises
- accumulations or deposits on premises (for example piles of rotting rubbish)
- animals kept in certain places or manner
- insect infestations from industrial, trade or business premises
- artificial light from premises
- noise from premises, vehicles, machinery or equipment in a street (except traffic noise).
The most common types of statutory nuisance complaints we receive are about noise, smoke and smells.
Prejudicial to health
This means that the situation is causing, has caused or is likely to cause injury to health.
This term exclude things which might give rise to physical injury, for example an accumulation containing glass or sharp objects which could give rise to injury would not be covered. An accumulation of rotting waste which is likely to attract rats and has the potential to spread disease would be included.
The vast majority of complaints are dealt with as a potential 'nuisance' rather than proving the more difficult alternative 'prejudicial to health'.
There is no set definition of the term 'nuisance', but case law since the Act came in to force helps determine what is considered to be a nuisance.
For something to be a statutory nuisance it must be considered to be unreasonable to the 'average person' and something that is more than an annoyance. Things that will be taken into account when deciding if something is a nuisance or not include:
Impact – the problem must have a real effect on how a person can reasonably use or enjoy their property. For example noise from a neighbour may be audible, but it would have to be loud enough to impact on sleep, conversation, watching TV etc. for it to be a nuisance. For something to be a statutory nuisance it must also have an impact directly on a person (such as noise affecting sleep, dust getting into eyes or hair etc.). If the effect is on property, such as dust on cars or window ledges, then this may not be a statutory nuisance (although an aggrieved person may take civil action for damages or an injunction).
Frequency – something happening just once or twice might not be a nuisance, for example a celebration event with music during the day or early evening. If the same thing occurred more frequently, for example every other week or month, then it could be a nuisance. A one off event could be a nuisance if it was so loud as to cause an impact on other residents in particular if it goes on late into the evening and their sleep is being affected.
Duration – if something happens for a relatively short period of time it may not be a nuisance, for example a neighbour’s dog barking when someone comes to the door. But if the same noise went on for longer, for example a dog barking constantly when the owners are out all day, then this could be a nuisance.
Time of day / night – this is similar to impact, because something that might be a problem through the night, might not necessarily be a nuisance when happening in the day.
Everyday activity – things which are part and parcel of everyday normal life, for example flushing toilets, footsteps, talking, closing doors, babies crying, will not amount to a nuisance because there is little the person can do to prevent it. This is sometimes an issue with poor sound insulation between properties, but statutory nuisance can only be used to change unacceptable behaviour and not to require people to do over and above what they should be reasonably expected to.
Sensitivity – statutory nuisance must be considered in the context of an average person, in a reasonable state of good health and having a normal pattern of everyday activity. Statutory nuisance cannot be used to make people do more than might reasonably be expected of them because someone else may be more sensitive than the average person, for example if a night-shift worker trying to sleep during the day, or someone with respiratory problems being more sensitive to dust or smoke. We encourage people to have regard to the impact they are having on more vulnerable neighbours, but statutory nuisance powers should not be used to require people to do more than would be reasonably be expected of them.
Public benefit – something might cause an inconvenience, but because it is essential to the wider public benefit it may not be considered to be a nuisance – for example temporary road works, harvesting of crops, sirens on emergency vehicles etc, although best practice should be followed to minimise disturbance.
Motive – if someone deliberately does something to cause annoyance then this could be a nuisance, for example deliberately slamming a door or banging on a wall.
Best practicable means – only applicable to some types of statutory nuisance which occur on business premises, but if a company is doing all they reasonably can to prevent or counteract the effect of a nuisance then they will have a defence against any statutory nuisance action. We will consider if a business is doing all it can when deciding if something is a nuisance or not.
Examples of things that have been found to be a nuisance:
- music being played every week during the early evening and into the night which was so loud that neighbours could not hear their TV without turning the volume up
- dogs left alone that bark for regular and prolonged periods of time
- a business installing a new machine without noise insulation
- smoke from a regular garden bonfire which meant neighbours had to close their windows
- outdoor light shining directly into a neighbour’s bedroom making it difficult to sleep
Examples of things that have been found not to be a nuisance:
- a person carrying out DIY during the day and at weekends over a few weeks
- noise from children playing on a trampoline in their garden
- a slight smell coming from a take-away, which had all proper extract ventilation and odour control in place
- a party which happened just once a year and finished at a reasonable time early in the evening
- smoke from a bonfire on bonfire night
- dust from a construction site where reasonable control methods were being used
- footsteps from a neighbouring flat that could be heard due to poor sound insulation
How do we decide if something is a statutory nuisance?
We have trained officers who are authorised to investigate complaints of statutory nuisance. They will investigate cases which can't be resolved informally to decide if the issue amounts to a statutory nuisance.
Our officers will need to gather evidence and will use a combination of the following:
- officers witnessing the problem themselves
- witness statements from those who are affected, or from professional witnesses such as police officers or housing officers
- written nuisance records from people affected
- using measuring devices, such a noise meters and light meters
- leaving specialist noise recording equipment in the property of people affected
- inspecting premises and talking to those that are the subject of complaint
- expert evidence from specialists, eg odour consultants
Contact us if you need advice about a nuisance problem or want to make a complaint. You might also find our information about being a considerate neighbour and bonfires useful.