Spring Property Survey: Complaints of noisy neighbours are on the rise

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NOISE levels in more than half the homes in England and Wales exceed levels set by the World Health Organisation. This rises to almost two-thirds at night, according to a study by the Building Research Establishment.

But it says there are simple ways occupiers can restore the sound barrier.

Traffic is the main villain. More than 90 per cent of homes suffer - despite the fact that only 5 per cent are on main roads. The government aims to reduce vehicle noise over the next two years but that will not solve everything.

Noisy neighbours caused more complaints than any other disturbance. Animals and birds were also a major cause of irritation - falling only just short of aircraft.

Complaints have almost tripled in the last decade, now at almost 100,000 a year, says the Institute of Environmental Health Officers. This is partly because of increased homebuying, as owners have no landlord to approach and tend to be more demanding.

Last year one woman was banned from playing Jim Reeves records after complaints from neighbours, while a building company was fined pounds 13,000 because its workers chanted the Banana Boat Song continuously on a Bank Holiday Sunday.

Many problems can be eased through better sound insulation, says the BRE. It has produced simple guidance, aimed at the ordinary owner, on setting up sound barriers and how to diagnose where the sound is leaking through.

Flats in converted buildings, for instance, rarely have floor insulation, although the building regulations have been uprated since 1992 to block this and many other loopholes.

Both floors and walls can be lined fairly cheaply with materials like plasterboard and timber, says the BRE guidance. Occupiers may even be able to sue the ground landlord or builder for the cost. Other legal remedies are also outlined, including an inexpensive way to ask magistrates for an order against noisy neighbours.

Improving Sound Insulation in Your Home, from the BRE Bookshop, pounds 2. Building Research Establishment, Garston, Watford WD2 7JR (Tel: 0923-664444)