Dealing with noisy student neighbours
Summary: This page deals with repeated noise disturbances from the same address—“noisy neighbours”. Depending on the nature of the noise, you might also need to read the Night-Time Noise or Day-Time Noise pages.
There are potentially several ways to respond. You can complain to the university, the landlord, and Bristol City Council's Neighbourhood Enforcement Team, probably in that order. In some instances, the neighbourhood police might help. There is also a little-known right to apply directly to a magistrates’ court for a noise abatement order, under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Read on:
Step 1: Make notes
As soon as it becomes apparent you might have a problem, starting keeping a record of the dates, times and nature of the disturbance.
Step 2: Speak to the students
It may pay to speak to the students directly if you feel safe to do so. It's possible they don't realise how much their noise impacts you. (Bristol's Victorian houses have thick walls, but sound travels remarkably easily between adjoining properties.) The types of noise that can cause problems cover quite a spectrum, from slamming doors to loud music to people talking outside late at night, so be prepared to have a fairly detailed discussion and try to do it calmly. You probably already know they are students and which university they come from but if you don't, try to get those details. It's useful also to check exactly how many tenants there are, and who the landlord or agent is. (If they won't tell you, those details may be obtainable elsewhere—see below.)
Remind the students they are subject to their university's conduct policy, even though they are in private property. University of Bristol's Local Rules, for example, say students should not annoy their neighbours at any time. University of the West of England has similar policies. Go here for details.
Step 3: Contact the university
If after two conversations (at most) the situation remains unsatisfactory, complain to the relevant university, including these key details:
the street address of the property
the nature of the noise and when it happened
how loud it was
the impact it has had on you
dates and times when you went to complain
who you spoke to
what response you received
(if neighbours are also affected, ask them to complain too)
University contact details:
University of Bristol
Community Liaison Manager
University of the West of England
Community Liaison Manager
(If you don’t know which university they’re with, email both of them and ask them to check their address registers.)
Step 4: Contact the landlord
You should also contact the landlord or property agent. If the property is a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO), the licensee is bound by law to try to ensure the occupants don’t disturb neighbours. This should include excessive disturbance at any time.
You can find names and contact details for landlords and managing agents of HMOs using the council's Pinpoint map. See my Resources page for details.
(If you live next to an HMO, the licensee is legally required to give you his contact details, and should already have done so.)
Step 5: Contact the council
Repeated or “ongoing” noise from an address is the one category of complaint that Bristol City Council's Neighbourhood Enforcement Team is able to deal with.
1. Go to the council's noise complaints page and click the blue button, "Report a noise problem online >"
2. You will be asked to fill in a 14-day noise diary. You can't proceed until you have done so.
3. The diary downloads as a Microsoft Word file. If you don't have Word on your device, the file may be presented to you in some other format. (It doesn't seem to be set up for mobile use.) If necessary, phone Neighbourhood Enforcement on 0117 922 2500 option 3 to ask for help, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can probably email you a copy of the document—or even post a hard copy to you.
4. You are asked to record "how and when noise disturbs you over the next 14 days" (my emphasis). I’m told this is not taken too literally—if you have already experienced several instances of disturbance recently, you can enter them. Save the file to your device.
5. When you're done (possibly 14 days later), go back to 1 above and, after answering the preliminary questions again, upload your completed file when asked to do so. (If they sent it to you by email, or by post, you will presumably return it the same way.)
What happens next is that your submission is reviewed by an enforcement officer. In due course you will hear if the complaint has been accepted for investigation, and you will be assigned a case officer. You may also be given an out-of-hours contact number to use if there are repeated disturbances, so that an officer can witness the noise. However, officers do out-of-hours duties only occasionally, so it may be a while before one is available when needed. Because this is a protracted process, I suggest you start it early, perhaps in parallel with the other steps mentioned. If those other steps solve the problem, council action can always be suspended. Being able to tell your student neighbours that you have sought council intervention may in itself help to persuade them you are serious.
(I'm interested to collect information as to how well this system works in practice and, of course, the outcome, so would welcome an email if you use this option.)
Step 6: The police
These kinds of complaints are not normally ones that require police involvement, but if there are associated issues around anti-social behaviour or the situation is becoming extreme, call 101 and ask for the local beat police to contact you.
Step 7: Go to court
There is a little-known option under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 whereby residents can take a complaint of statutory noise nuisance directly to a magistrates’ court, without involving the council. If satisfied that a nuisance has been caused, the court can impose a noise abatement notice (future breach of which would be a criminal offence) and/or levy a fine. It is a relatively simple process, though little used, probably because so few people know about it. The biggest practical difficulty I foresee is that (I assume) you will need to provide the names and address of the people causing the nuisance, so that the court can issue a summons requiring them to attend a hearing. See here for more detail.
(If anyone is considering taking this route, please get in touch with me.)
Version: September 2019
This page presents my advice. Users must make their own judgment. If you complain in person to people creating noise, try to remain calm and business-like, and avoid inflammatory words or action.