The Noise Abatement Act, a conduit for anti-social behaviour?
No matter what time of year, an examination and reminder of the Noise Abatement Act (the “Act”) seems timely. The current pandemic and the associated restrictions on gatherings may affect the staging of large events and shows, but perhaps not the instances of incessant loud music emanating from parts known and unknown seemingly in perpetuity.
An article published by the BBC nearly ten years ago entitled “Jamaica: The loudest island on the planet?” may, sadly, be just as relevant now as it was then. Though the article delved into aspects of Jamaican music as a cultural expression, it also addressed efforts to control loud music. Arguably, not much has changed with respect to controlling the annoying impact of loud music and noise on people’s right to peace and quiet. While the Act is intended to form a buffer between citizens and the deafening sounds that interfere with peace and quiet, many may be of the view that without urgent reform, it’s silence shall continue to speak volumes while it’s effect too soft to be heard.
In accordance with the law, no person ought to sing, play a musical or noisy instrument or operate or cause to be operated a loudspeaker, microphone or device for the amplification of sound from any private premises or public places at any time of day or night where the sound is audible within one hundred metres of the source of that sound.
The sound referred to is further qualified. If it is reasonably capable of causing annoyance to people during specified hours beyond the one hundred metre distance in the vicinity of any dwelling house, hospital, nursing home, infirmary, hotel or guest house then that sound is presumed to cause an annoyance. The periods referred to are between 2AM and 6AM on Saturday and Sunday, and Midnight to 6AM during the rest of the week. In addition, loudspeakers are not to be operated later than 11PM at a public meeting and no later than midnight at a political meeting held between nomination day and the day next but one before Election Day. The above times are of course, subject to restrictions currently imposed via Orders under the Disaster Risk Management Act.
Interestingly in the United Kingdom, noise disturbance is considered a common, if not the most common, antisocial behaviour reported to the police. In that jurisdiction, noise that is considered unreasonable is loud noise after 11pm and before 7am, or loud music and other household noise at an inappropriate volume at any time.
It is also noteworthy that the Government of Canada posts that noise may result in adverse effects on physical mental or well-being and encourages people to limit time spent on extremely noisy activities.
Locally, a person who contravenes the law shall be guilty of an offence for violating the public peace and may be fined up to J$15,000 or, in default of payment, up to three months imprisonment for a first offence. In the case of a second offence, the fine may be up to J$30,000 or up to six months imprisonment if in default. For a subsequent offence, the fine is up to J$50,000 or a period of up to twelve months in prison if in default, and the equipment used may be forfeited.
The owner of the premises on which an offence has been committed does not escape liability if the owner was on the premises at the time the offence was committed and did not take reasonable steps to try to prevent the offence. Therefore, it may be prudent for owners of such premises to seek legal advice in a timely manner. In the same instance, liability can also extend to the owner or operator of the equipment used in the commission of the offence.
Notwithstanding an offender’s acquisition of the relevant permits (although currently no such permits are being issued by the relevant authorities) to operate certain equipment (for music, entertainment etc) it is a regular occurrence when loud music is being played that a request is made for it to be turned down; but the person playing or operating the equipment fails to comply with the request. That failure to comply is an offence making the offender liable for a fine of up to J$20,000 or, in default of payment, imprisonment of up to six months. The Act goes further to state that if a request is made for loud music to be turned down because of someone’s serious illness, or other reasonable cause, and that request is not complied with; the Police may actually seize and detain the equipment used.
In the Isle of Man, in accordance with the Noise Act of that jurisdiction, on investigating a complaint, the first step is for the police to issue a warning to the offending party. If the noise continues after the warning police may enter the relevant premises and seize the source of the noise and anyone who obstructs the police in dealing with the source of the noise, commits an offence of obstruction for which the penalty is three months imprisonment or a fine equivalent to J$450,000.
In a residential complex
In the case of strata units, the Registration (Strata Titles) Act prohibits owners from making undue noise in or about any strata lot or common area.
In cases where owners’ agreements are in effect, owners should carefully check the provisions in relation to undue noise and/or seek legal advice concerning possible alternatives for addressing offenders via relief through the court.
The Act on the face of it, provides clear guidelines, safeguards and the requisite power for anyone to have a good night’s sleep and a quiet Sunday afternoon. However, it may well be that the penalties and enforcement thereof do not provide an adequate deterrent to effectively halt offenders.
Nonetheless, it has been widely reported that consultations in respect of long-awaited legislative changes have commenced and the outcomes of those deliberations are anxiously awaited.
Rachel McLarty is an Associate at Myers, Fletcher & Gordon and is a member of the firm’s Property Department. Rachel may be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org or you can visit the firm’s website at www.myersfletcher.com. This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.