Lockdown in France: What to do about noisy neighbours?

The confinement period has thrown up many unexpected issues but some, such as what to do about noisy neighbours, existed before coronavirus and will undoubtedly continue long after it.

27 April 2020
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France’s police and gendarmerie forces from mid-April report a rise in calls for “tapage nocturne” (night noise) with forbidden parties and family gatherings involving people getting drunk; the main cause of such noise.

Loud music and video games from neighbouring flats with teenage and young adult residents have been often mentioned on the list of disturbances reported on phone-in radio programmes about the hardships of the lockdown.

As anywhere, the first step when faced with noise from neighbours, be it loud music, power tools or simply a lawnmower starting at dawn when you are trying to sleep, is to talk to your neighbour calmly and try to get them to be reasonable.

Only after that has been tried and failed should you consider involving the law.

In France the law on noise is divided between noise at night, which is defined as being from 22:00 to 07:00 and during the day.

The law simply states that “No noise shall by its duration, repetition or its intensity, disturb the tranquillity of the neighbourhood or the health of people, in a public or private space,” and it applies whether someone is themselves the origin of the noise or responsible for a third party making the noise, or if they have an animal under their responsibility which makes the noise.

Complaints about day-time noise are centred on the repetition, intensity and length of the sound, while at night, these factors do not necessarily have to be taken into account.

Fines depend on whether the police issue a fine on the spot, or if the case is contested and has to be heard in court.

On the spot fines are €68 which rises to €180 if not paid in 45 days.

When a case goes to court and a guilty verdict is given, the fine is €450.

If talking to your neighbour about the noise has no effect, you can call the municipal police (if your town has a force), national police, if you live in a town of more than 10,000 people,  or the gendarmes, and ask them to take action.

Obviously it is best you do this while the noise is taking place, but you must expect a complaint about noise to be low on the list of priorities if the law officers have a busy night or day.

If they are unable to come out, or if they do and the noise continues, your best form of action is to write a simple letter, keeping a copy, to your neighbour, detailing your complaint about the noise.

A next step, assuming the noise continues, is to send a letter, with your new complaints, and referencing your previous complaint en recommandé, to ensure you have written evidence of your complaints. 

Keeping a written diary of noise disturbances is also advised, and it can be supplemented by sound recordings made on a smartphone or computer where possible. There are some apps which measure decibel readings from smartphones and it might be worth buying one of these as well.

Some communes have bylaws for some sorts of noise – for example the use of a lawnmower at the weekend, and it might be worth asking if this is the case, and if so, asking the mairie’s help in the conflict.

If the neighbour rents the property, you should get in touch with the owner and ask them to do their best to end the disturbance, as they can end up being taken to court along with the neighbour.

A final step before going to the law is to try and find a free mediator.

This could be the syndic de co-propriété if you live in flats, or a conciliation service provided, for example, by a centre socio-culturel in your town.

Only after this failed should you go to the law to try and get a court order against your neighbours.

The first step is to  get a bailiff (huissier) to make a report on the noise you are bothered by, and send a copy to the neighbours, with a letter again asking them to stop. You will have to pay the bailiff’s fees, which are likely to be at least €200.

If that has no effect you could engage an avocat to try and get a court order against the neighbours and the owner of the property. Lawyers fees are likely to cost you at least €4,000.

Some household insurance policies will cover legal fees for neighbourhood disputes, others do not – check with your contract and contact your insurer before trying to make a claim.

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