In the London borough of Hackney, complaints about domestic noise have risen by 34 per cent during the past year and doubled in five years. Even where I live, in the leafy, intellectual end of the borough, noise culture has definitely arrived. Last summer, the people three doors down set up a parasol and plastic furniture, barbecue, TV and sound system on a slab of white-painted concrete, where they conducted an almost non-stop outdoor party.
One Sunday in the summer even they were drowned out by a staggering onslaught of rap and house music, which (true to its name) had the house rocking and shaking along with it. When I ventured forth to have a few polite words with the party-makers, I found myself walking - in disbelief - 300 yards to the end of the road, to find the barrage of sound was coming from the estate beyond. I beat a hasty retreat.
Those events seemed trivial, however, compared with my year- long struggle - at that time moving towards an uncertain denouement - to get my neighbours above my first-floor flat to keep their noise down to reasonable levels and social hours. Polite requests, complaints to their landlady and the threat of legal action had failed to stop them playing music and making loud noises at night. One morning in June, woken at 6am by their washing machine, I lost my temper and they turned violent. The man, a tall fellow, tried to force his way into my flat and when he failed he kicked my door. As I stood there stunned and breathless, they began to crash large pieces of furniture on to the floor above, making an ear-splitting din. When I left the flat to recover with a quiet walk, the man ran down the stairs after me and shouted abuse from the front door.
My troubles had begun two summers ago when my neighbour upstairs got a job abroad and rented out her flat. The tenants, Josh and Ilana (not their real names), were in their early twenties, had shiny new cars, wore Next clothes and led a busy social life.
Things started to go seriously wrong when Ilana lost her job and started making sandwiches from home to sell in offices. All through that summer she got up at four or five in the morning, went out briefly to buy provisions and then busied noisily about the flat.
Meanwhile, their social life was becoming more and more uproarious. They played music into the early hours and would run erratically around the flat at two or three in the morning - one night they seemed to be cavorting over the furniture. Dark rumours circulated the house that they had been heard making love in the stairway.
We politely requested - not too often - that they be quieter, but this had no effect. Until one morning in mid-October last year. Ilana had got a job outside, but was still leaving noisily at six or seven. Getting up and asking her to be quieter precipitated a breathtaking outburst of personal abuse and a week-long campaign of stamping on the stairs, slamming the flat door and playing the stereo at top volume. Despite the provocation, I made a gesture of goodwill and suggested we had a friendly chat. They refused to have anything to do with me.
Although previously I'd had a Londoner's normal tolerance of noise, I now became acutely sensitive to it. My neighbours' total denial of my point of view and my rights turned each noise into an act of aggression.
I decided that each time they disturbed my sleep, I would make a note of exactly what I heard and how I responded. I used this record in a letter to their landlady asking her to take steps to protect my rights. She wrote to the tenants, but to no avail. I informed her and complained to the managing agents. Neither replied. The noise got worse and I evacuated to a friend's house for a few weeks.
When I told people my saga most knew of some similar case, which always ended with the victim reduced to a nervous wreck and forced to sell up or move out. Usually a long, fruitless dialogue with an environmental health department was involved.
But a solicitor friend said there was another way. She advised me how to prepare civil proceedings in nuisance against the tenants myself.
It cost me pounds 43 and two evenings drawing up the particulars of my claim and an affidavit laying out what had happened. I gave the tenants a week to stop the noise or face prosecution. The noise continued and the papers went off to court, where they spent the summer of this year being processed.
When, in September, I received a date for my case and the summons to serve on the tenants, I balked. They were now being quieter: what if they responded with more violence and provocation? What if the case was adjourned and dragged on for months? Wouldn't it just intensify an already unbearable conflict?
Serving the summons was a breakthrough. The tenants crumpled. Far from being violent, they became blissfully quiet. Letters flowed in from the agents saying they would be leaving and asking me to drop the case. Ilana, the only defendant to turn up in court, was unrepresented and readily signed an undertaking saying that she would not cause unreasonable noise in future.
With hindsight, I believe the legal action had added force because I brought it myself. An injunction imposed at my request that listed my demands gave them a direct legal obligation to me. If they broke it, I would be the one to have them speedily jailed.
Within three weeks they had moved out. The quiet continued until the weekend they left. In a final orgy of noise, they turned up the stereo, slammed the doors and crashed about with boxes and furniture as loudly as they could. Like a retreating army, they slashed and burned as they left.Reuse content