Imagine this scenario – you wake up one morning to the loud beeping of industrial trucks reversing cargo into your neighbour’s driveway, the shouting of labourers fill your ears as scaffolding clatters, mechanical lifts are fired up and the angle grinders shriek into the cold morning air. Dazed and confused, you stumble to the kitchen just to realize – it’s a Sunday morning!

Is your neighbour and/or his building contractor allowed to do this?

Living in an urban area does come with its challenges. The scenario illustrated above is one which occurs frequently, and which usually culminates in acrimonious exchanges between the parties involved. Given the rapid pace at which urban areas develop, you can expect more headaches in future.

There are laws and regulations which apply to these situations:

The Noise Control Regulations in terms of Section 25 of the Environment Conservation Act 73 of 1989 are applicable in the Western Cape[1] (“the WC regulations”) and govern noise incidences and occurrences in the Province. The WC regulations prohibit disturbing noise and noise nuisances, which are defined as follows:

‘disturbing noise’ means a noise level which exceeds the zone sound level or, if no zone sound level has been designated, a noise level which exceeds the ambient sound level at the same measuring point by 7 dBA or more;

‘noise nuisance’ means any sound which disturbs or impairs or may disturb or impair the convenience or peace of any person;

If the noise meets those definitions, the WC regulations afford you certain avenues for relief. It is, for example, an offence to persist with unabated noise nuisances and this may lead to liability for a fine or imprisonment.

As alluded to in the Sunday morning example, disturbing building and construction activities have commenced before and continuing after hours and on days which are not permitted for such activities. The Regulations issued in terms of section 17 (1) of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act 103 of 1977, prohibit the use of machinery, engines, apparatus, tools or contrivance which may cause a disturbance to the neighbourhood –

  • on a public holiday or Sunday;
  • before 06:00 or after 17:00 on any Saturday; and
  • before 06:00 or after 18:00 on any day other than those days above.

These are strict timelines which can be enforced by engaging the relevant law enforcement authorities.

However, your neighbour is within his rights to proceed with such works outside of these times if:

  • the work is required for an emergency to protect life or property; or
  • the work is being done on behalf of a public authority; or
  • the local authority (for example, your City’s Development Management Department) has granted its permission to proceed with the work.

If your neighbour is building at the early hours of the morning or on your (supposed-to-be) serene Sundays and he is not able to prove that any of the requisite exceptions to the regulations apply, certain remedies become available to you as an affected party. Such relief is based in terms of the relevant By-laws in your area, such as the City of Cape Town’s Municipal Planning By-law and the Streets, Public Places and Prevention of Noise Nuisance By-law which is exclusively applicable to the City.

If you are aggrieved by disturbing noise and noise nuisances, feel free to contact our offices to discuss the possible relief measures available to you.

[1] Whereas the Environment Conservation Act applies nationally and provincial authorities are empowered to make their own regulations in their provinces, this article examines only the Western Cape regulations.