Surveys estimate that as many as one in three of us have been affected by living close to noisy neighbours. The boom of the stereo, screaming rows, barking dogs, even the stomping of feet on hardwood floors on upper storeys – whatever the noise, if it continues it can make your life hell. If the problem persists even after you have politely discussed the issue with your neighbours, then you may have to take legal action – which by necessity means you will have to provide evidence of the noise they are making. So that means, the quick answer to "is it legal for you to record noisy neighbours?" is "yes", but, as is so often the case with the law, there are caveats and exceptions. It is highly recommended that you follow the advice of a mediation service before installing any recording equipment. This usually means the Environmental Services department of the local council, or a tenants management team within a housing association, if that applies to your situation. Your mediator will ask you to provide evidence that the noise is as unacceptable as you have described, through keeping diaries and recording the noise made. They will often also visit your home to collate the evidence with you.

If you are making recordings through equipment which can listen through walls, it is vital that you use these recordings responsibly. Only submit them to mediators, the police, or your legal advisers as requested – don't be tempted to share the recordings publicly. Even though our privacy laws in the UK are murky and somewhat incomplete, you could find yourself facing charges of harassment by retaliating in this way. Although the noise being made is undoubtedly annoying to you, never forget that your neighbours are within the privacy of their own home and you might inadvertently record details of their lives that you have no right to make public - no matter how annoying they are. Steer clear of recording children in any way. Even if your neighbours don't take legal redress about "invasions of their privacy", this could lead to an escalation in tension between you.

If you have problems with noisy neighbours

  1. Contact them to explain the nature of the problem (which they may not be in full awareness of) and try to resolve the issue amicably. There may have to be some compromise on both sides, such as agreeing to close your windows at times when the noise is at its loudest, or agreeing on a "curfew" for excess noise. Maybe they just need to install carpeting!
  2. Still noisy? Speak to mutual neighbours and see if they are experiencing the same issues as you are. If so, try approaching the problem neighbours as a group, perhaps via a diplomatically worded letter that clearly and reasonably outlines the problem. Ask for music to turned down, rather than off.
  3. If the problem persists, contact a mediator, you can get information through your local Citizen's Advice Bureau and follow their recommendations.
  4. In the case of long-term noise problems, especially if there is the risk of violence when trying to deal with the issue, contact your local police and ask them to investigate on your behalf. The police are unlikely to take an interest in "trivial" matters, so present them with details about how sustained / extensive / unreasonable the noise levels are.

There is a lot of useful information at http://www.noisyneighbours.net/