New best practice guidance to social landlords when dealing with noise complaints04/11/22
The Housing Ombudsman has recently carried out an investigation into noise complaints which included a review of more than 800 noise related cases dealt with over three years. The investigation uncovered that more often than not, noise reports are being treated as anti-social behaviour, even when they concern only general household noise. The Housing Ombudsman called this a “fundamental unfairness” in the social housing sector’s approach to noise complaints and has outlined several recommendations.
What does noise look like in 2022:
The national lockdowns throughout 2020 and 2021 created an unprecedented situation. People were staying in their homes throughout the day, where previously they would have been out and about. Predictably, this led to an increase in reports about noise during this time.
Noise complaints in 2022 can include things like movement, the washing machine running and music being played intermittently. The Housing Ombudsman noted that it is unfair to both the resident making the complaint and the resident being complained about, where the noise is treated as something it is not.
Fundamentally, noise is a significant driver for resident dissatisfaction – within their review the Housing Ombudsman found that in 89% of the cases looked at, the residents were dissatisfied with landlord’s response to noise reports. In addition, the maladministration rate for non-statutory noise complaints was high at 62% in 2021-2022.
What can social landlords do to improve?
Although landlords are not responsible for soundproofing homes above standards applicable at the time of the building, the Ombudsman emphasised the need for actions to be taken to prevent or mitigate the typical sources of noise nuisance, which will in the long run be more cost effective than the handling of the subsequent noise report.
The Housing Ombudsman made suggestions of what can be done to ensure that noise reports are dealt with effectively in instances, where noise is non-statutory and not ASB:
Focus on prevention
Landlords should update void standards to ensure that carpets are not removed unless they are in a poor condition, and hard flooring is removed when there have been reports of noise linked to a property.
New tenancies for flats with other homes below, should include clauses that hard flooring is not permitted. Hard flooring should only be permitted with existing tenancies where there is appropriate underlay. In these scenarios, the landlords should signpost residents to funding for carpets and rugs.
Additionally, landlords should consider their net zero plans for insulation to ensure that the thermal insulation activity planned will also provide noise insulation from transference noise.
Finally, it is recommended that anti-vibration mats are fitted into the washing machine space as a standard.
This is an important time for landlords to consider if a policy or approach stands to dealing with noise reports outside ASB. The Housing Ombudsman suggested that a proactive good neighbourhood management policy should be adopted, which is distinct to the ASB policy.
The Housing Ombudsman advised that a triage methodology is adopted, so that landlords can identify if a noise report should be handled under the ASB policy or the neighbourhood management policy.
A good neighbourhood management policy will have clear options for maintaining good neighbourhood relationships, such as mediation and information sharing. It is suggested that landlords provide information leaflets on ‘how to be a good neighbour’ as standard with the new tenancy induction pack.
The Housing Ombudsman observed benefits of staff presence on some estates to provide early intervention where noise was reported.
Communication & record keeping
The Housing Ombudsman found that residents often felt that they were keeping endless diary records for no purpose or outcome. Therefore, managing the expectations of residents and being clear on how a noise report will be handled, in particular if their noise complaint will be dealt with under the ASB policy or good neighbourhood management policy, will aid good communication, expectation management and perception by residents. Anyone making a noise report should also be notified about their right to make a complaint if they are dissatisfied with the landlord’s proposal for handling the situation or the actions taken to address the situation.
The Housing Ombudsman reiterated that sensitivity in the tone of communication is important to consider, in addition to consistency with following policies. In particular they noted the unintentional offence that can be caused where the noise is described as “low level”, as it can be seen in relation to wider ASB. They remind of the distress this term can cause and that it can be avoided.
Adequate record keeping should be seen as priority for all landlords. The review found that 66% of landlords use noise monitoring equipment whereas only 7% of residents had it fitted. The Housing Ombudsman advised that it is important to listen fully to noise recordings submitted by residents, consider action plans, undertake risk assessments and fully investigate all reports made. The report noted that better communication and record keeping assists in avoiding maladministration.
Applications for housing should be assessed for the impact on the existing community and not just those considered to be sensitive. A particular theme of contention that came out of the investigation was placing families in flats above other homes. The reality being that homes with families or households with multiple occupants are likely to have a greater possibility of noise transference.
While housing availability may limit options, consideration should be given to the suitability of allocating properties above ground floor, especially where previous reports of noise nuisance have been made. In such instances, it must be considered whether any mitigations can be made.
How Capsticks can help
Capsticks aims to be the firm of choice to Registered Providers, offering advice on any noise complaints cases and can review any ASB or good neighbourhood management policies.
If you have any queries around what's discussed in this article, please speak to Michael Owen and Catherine Craven to find out more about how Capsticks can help.