Noise complaints: know your rights

For a long time, pubs, nightclubs and bars were under attack from local residents complaining about the noise. Many found themselves on the wrong end of council legislation which caused some to close down.

How to prevent noise nuisance complaints against your venue

But rightly so, venues are starting to fight back. Social media is now packed with examples of pubs defending their customer’s right to cause a bit of noise. This is one of our favourites:

And humour hasn’t been the only shield used to fight off noise complaints. Some venue owners and managers are now taking the legal route to find protection.

Very recently, news broke that the landlady of the George Tavern in Stepney had won a case preventing noise complaints from the future residents of a new development of flats next door.

This was fantastic news in two ways:

  1. Tower Hamlets council have showed an appreciation for the benefits that the venue brings for the whole community. Night time leisure is seen as being as important for the economy in the area as money from developers.
  2. The landlady, Pauline Forster, enlisted the help of lawyer, Tim Taylor to help her fight her cause. Taylor has worked to secure a similar order for the Ministry of Sound nightclub in Elephant and Castle. This just shows how the industry can thrive by sticking together and venues learning from each other.

But with noise complaints still causing a bigger issue than they should in 2019, we thought we’d take a look at what rights you have as a venue and how you can fight against these types of complaint.

Firstly, we need to examine what your responsibilities are as the venue owner/manager

You have a responsibility as a venue to prevent unnecessary noise ‘nuisance’ while people are inside, or leaving the venue. That rule is up for some interpretation, but it’s fairly easy to follow a common sense approach of ‘loud music is ok, groups of people chanting on the street outside, isn’t.

In fact, we would suggest that your treat the area directly outside your venue as your domain. That means security staff should approach any culprits of noise nuisance including customers leaving, taxi drivers beeping their horns or food and drink sellers shouting to drum up business.

But nuisance noise isn’t limited to customers at closing time. You should also consider how and when you’re receiving deliveries of large pallets, or how you’re disposing of glass. The general day to day running of your club can cause excessive noise, and it’s up to you to make sure that it isn’t above and beyond necessary.

As a rule of thumb, we would advise keeping deliveries, where possible, to between the hours of 7.30 AM and 6PM on weekdays and Saturdays.

In terms of noise complaints, this isn’t as relevant, but you also have a duty to ensure that the noise levels at your venue aren’t dangerous (too high for a prolonged period). Take a look at the noise at work section of the HSE website for more information.

So what rights do you have?

The good news is that for the most part, you have a lot of rights in this area. It’s very rare that a complaint would have such legal standing as to massively affect the running of your nightclub.

The main legal standing that comes into force after a noise complaint involves the application of the Licensing Act 2003. Part of this act is the Prevention of Public Nuisance.

The good news is that there is no definition in this act that would allow noise complaints to unjustly alter your rights as a business. As long as you are sensible in the way you control noise, and so long as you don’t make any rash changes to your business practices that would increase noise, you should be fine.

The action associated with the act that local authorities would likely take would be to implement conditions on the venue to reduce the cause of the noise. But authorities are required to take a balanced view between the author and the subject of the complaint, and the conditions have to be tailored to the venue. That means they shouldn’t prevent you doing what you do best.

What is the best course of action to prevent noise complaints and legal action?

We would suggest taking two really important steps to prevent complaints. Firstly, talk to the people in your local area and community. Discuss their concerns with them and demonstrate the steps you’re taking to prevent nuisance noise. If you can find a common ground, you’re less likely to find yourself on the wrong end of complaints.

Secondly, it’s important that before you make any changes to your venue that may affect the community, such as installing an outside seating area, that you talk to an expert. That expert will be able to tell you if your change is likely to land you on the wrong side of the local authorities and hopefully prevent difficulties for you down the line.

We’re more than happy to have the discussion with you. We work with risk and legal professionals to ensure that the service and advice we give our clients is always useful and with legal standing.

In fact, if you’re an NTIA member and take out our MLP Business Protection insurance, we provide cover for legal costs relating to noise.

 If you’d like to discuss your noise impact and putting checks in place to prevent complaints (or claims), contact us today.

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