Like all children their age, my young daughters can be a bit noisy now and then. Particularly when they are excited, over-tired, or in the midst of an ear splitting tantrum. Sometimes even every day activities can get a little noisy; my four-year-old likes to sing at the top of her lungs, my two-year-old loves musical instruments. It’s quite a show.
For the sake of my neighbours I try my best to keep the noise at an acceptable volume, but it isn’t always possible. They are children, after all, and children do not come with a mute button.
So far, we haven’t had any complaints from the neighbours, but I sometimes worry that it’s only a matter of time before we get a knock at the door.
But neighbourhood disputes over noisy children are more common than you may think. In one recent case in the UK, a pair of young brothers are actually being investigated by the local council for “noise pollution”.
Euan and Charlie Ducker, who are aged two and four, live in an apartment in the north of England with their parents. Like most children their age, they like to play with their toys when they wake up in the morning. But the residents living in the apartment below the Duckers have made complaints to the local council.
Selby council in North Yorkshire say they have a duty to investigate and have provided recording equipment to the Duckers’ neighbours so they can monitor the noise levels from the apartment above.
Although this case is fairly extreme, the Duckers are far from the first family to find themselves on the receiving end of complaints.
NSW mum Jessi Glauser had several complaints from her neighbours about noise – and was even sent “threatening” letters.
“We had four kids aged seven and under at the time, and we were home-schooling. Our neighbours said our children were too loud and that my husband used his tools for too long on the weekend,” she says.
“They contacted our housing agency, which is defence housing, as we are a defence family. Then when that didn’t get them the results they wanted, they sent us letters.”
Jessi says that the constant monitoring from her neighbours bordered on abuse. In the end, to escape the scrutiny and aggression, her family chose to move away.
For Sydney mum Val Smith, moving wasn't an option - so when the neighbours started to have issues with her kids, she needed another way to ease the growing tensions.
"I had a toddler and a kindy kid, and of course they always wanted to run around in the backyard when it was sunny," she says. "Our neighbours - well, one in particular - would stand at the fence and make pointed comments about them and how loudly they were playing. Once I was standing [where he couldn't see me] and I actually heard him telling my eldest son to 'zip it'."
A few days after that incident, Val knocked on the neighbours' front door for a chat. She told them her family's situation, saying that her husband had to travel for work a lot, and that she was often left to look after the kids while working full-time too.
"I explained that I tried to take the kids to the park to let off some steam when I could, but that sometimes it just wasn't possible, and they needed a run around in the yard. I said we'd make an effort to keep it down, but after that he seemed more understanding - or at least he didn't stand at the fence line and scowl at us anymore!" she says.
On the other side of the fence, Trish Chesters is constantly exasperated by the level of noise generated by the children living next door to her.
“They scream out the back constantly,” she says. “They throw water balloons over the fence when we are having guests over and are trying to enjoy lunch. They also ride their bikes, scooters and have running races in the driveway, which is extremely dangerous.”
While Trish understands that a certain level of noise is inevitable when living next door to young children, she feels that her neighbours’ kids have pushed the boundaries too far.
“My kids were noisy, but the kids next door are unrelenting. I just want peace now,” she says.
This sort of dispute is never pleasant for either party, but since moving is costly and often impractical, the best course of action is to deal with it as amicably as possible.
Although the law varies from state to state, noise complaints are normally dealt with by the police. Lawyer Kathyrn Hodges points out that it’s so common “there is even an on-line complaint form” on most local police sites.
Before things escalate further, Hodges suggests talking things through with a third party. “As with any dispute, mediation is probably a very good way to begin to sort things out properly,” she says.