How To Dealing With Noisy/Nuisance Neighbours in South Africa

Living in South Africa’s residential areas can be a blissful experience, but when noisy or smoking neighbours disrupt the peace, it can quickly turn into a nightmare. I remember when I was living in a small flat, on the ninth floor, we had a similar issue. Two young guys would drink the weekend after payday – and keep on partying until the early hours of the morning. For those of us who had to work the next day, it was quite horrible!

Fortunately, understanding your legal rights and recourse can help resolve these issues effectively.

What legislation governs annoying/noisy neighbours?

The following laws govern disturbances, nuisance or abusive neighbours and the like:

  • The Environment Conservation Act (73 of 1989).
  • Local municipal bylaws
  • The Sectional Title Schemes Management Act (STSMA) and house rules if you are within a sectional title scheme.

Types of issues with neighbours

Disturbances can range from noisy parties and loud music to smoking on balconies, all of which can impact the enjoyment of neighbouring units. These disturbances fall under two categories: disturbing noise, which can be objectively measured, and noise nuisance. Here is a list of issues with neighbours that can be escalated for legal (or mediation) recourse:

  1. Noise Disturbances: Persistent loud music, shouting, or other disturbances that affect the peace and quiet of neighbouring properties
  2. Nuisance Behavior: Actions that create a nuisance, such as operating machinery late at night, allowing pets to bark incessantly, or emitting strong odours that affect neighbouring properties (like smoking and dagga)
  3. Property Disputes: Disputes over property boundaries, encroachments, or unauthorized alterations
  4. Health and Safety Concerns: Issues that pose a risk to health and safety, such as neglecting to maintain a property, creating fire hazards, or allowing vermin infestations to spread
  5. Environmental Damage: Activities that cause environmental damage, such as pollution, improper waste disposal, or destruction of natural habitats
  6. Harassment or Threats: Persistent harassment, intimidation, verbal abuse or threats from a neighbour

What is my legal recourse to address neighbour issues?

Ideally, you do not want to take the legal route, as it is expensive and can take a long time. In an ideal world, neighbours would be understanding. So, what is the process of dealing with those bad bad neighbours? the first step is the same for HOAs, Sectional title schemes and freehold properties:

  1. The first step is to communicate directly with your neighbour to address the issue amicably. Chat with them and explain that, for example, your kid is trying to sleep.
  2. If the friendly chat doesn’t work, you can call the metro police, who should be able to calm them down for a while.

Escalating issues with a neighbour in Sectional Title Schemes or HOAs

Sectional title schemes (STSs) normally have a caretaker or security company that manages the safety aspect of the block. Escalating to the person responsible for this should be your first port of call. If this still doesn’t resolve it, your options are as follows:

  1. Write a formal complaint to the body corporate and trustees. I have done so in the past and gave them the legal amount of time (21 days) to rectify the problem.
    • Make sure to quote the house rules – it should contain rules about behaviour
  2. Do a formal, written complaint to the Community Schemes Ombud Service (CSOS).

Even with all of this in place, you might need to escalate this even further. The next steps are the same for freehold and sectional title scheme property.

Nuisance neighbours and freehold property

Freehold property is probably the most difficult to get a neighbour to shut up. The reasons include that there are no layers between you and the courts – and you will need to escalate it directly to either the municipality, the Department of Environmental Health or the courts.

Escalate noise disturbances to the Department of Environmental Health

Generally, each municipality has a Department of Environmental Health. Therefore, you need to escalate it to them to resolve the issue. A list of all the departments of major municipalities can be found here. The process will be something like this:

  • Log a written complaint
  • You will receive confirmation and a reference number telephonically and/or by email
  • The contact details of the Environmental Health Practitioner who will investigate the matter
  • For Tshwane, feedback will be provided within 7 days – I hope the other municipalities are amazing too!

Legal action to force the neighbour to comply

Remember, that you can apply directly to a court for an interdict to prevent your neighbour from causing the specific noise, or sue your neighbour for damages suffered as a result of excessive noise. There could however be recourse. For example, you might have some level of victimisation of the body corporate or a passive-aggressive neighbour. Furthermore, CSOS is unable to handle your case if there is a legal case pending.

If you have an interdict, but your neighbour persists with his or her unlawful actions, the neighbour may be found guilty of contempt of court. This could result in a fine (up to R20 000) or jail time (up to two years). 

An example of a complaint

We had a scenario where a neighbour/tenant had a dog – which was against the house rules. She screamed at my two-year-old child and wife while defending her ‘right’ to have the dog. I would like to share this email that I wrote, as to assist others having had issues.

Hi [Managing Agent Name], 

We’re extremely unhappy with how the body corporate, managing agent and trustees have handled the situation. You can understand the seriousness of the situation, as this has put my child in danger of getting bitten, as well as the verbal abuse that the tenant levied against my wife and child. It would be an injustice towards my family and my integrity to not push back on the below matter to resolve it.

As you know, the body corporate (with the the voted in trustees) are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the house rules are being followed AND enforced.

Therefore, it won’t make sense to just take the tenant to CSOS – we would need to resort to taking the BC to CSOS to force them to enforce the house rules with greater strictness. I am sure you (and the trustees) are aware of the costs that will be involved as well as all the admin involved.  

We would like to resolve this in a civil manner, rather than escalating the issue to CSOS. Therefore, I would like to give the trustees time to respond and give us a proper action plan to resolve the issue in the sectional title scheme concerning pets. 

Kindly supply us with an official response within 21 days to resolve the above matter.

Conclusion

If you can resolve a matter with a tenant amicably, try and do so. However, there are legal routes that you can take to feel safe in your own home – as with the example letter above. If the landlord did not comply with the body corporate and house rules, the matter would need to be escalated to CSOS, the municipality and lastly, legal action.

I am grateful that choosing the right words and knowing the complaint process and law has assisted me in resolving my issues quickly.

Happy investing!

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