Dealing with Noise Nuisance in France

  1. Definition of Noise Nuisance
  2. Negotiation and Mediation
  3. Police Intervention
  4. Criminal Proceedings
  5. Civil Proceedings
  6. Commercial Noise

6. Commercial Noise Nuisance

i. General Legal Principles

Since 2007, the law on noise from professional activities has been tightened up, although to date there is little case law on it.

The main difference now between the law and procedure governing domestic noise complaints and that governing disturbances emanating from professional, cultural or sporting activities is that, in the latter case, noise measurements are taken, using the decibel scale.

The base line for determining infractions is 25dB(A) within your premises, and 30Db(A) outside the property. In calculating whether a noise nuisance is being caused the duration of time during which the noise persists is also taken into consideration, with lower tolerances between 2200 hours and 0700 hours.

Those found in breach of these limits are also subject to a higher fine of up to €1500. Given the relatively paltry nature of the fine, those suffering noise from a professional activity should also consider trying to take a civil action alongside or instead of criminal proceedings.

The noise monitoring equipment will normally be through the public hygiene department in the Préfecture (Direction des affaires sanitaires et sociales - DDASS) who will decide whether a nuisance is being caused.

You may invoke the involvement of the DDASS personally but it would probably be better arranged after discussing the matter with the local mayor who may decide to request the Préfecture to intervene, which will carry more weight.

In considering the case the authorities will have regard to the location of the property, where the rules governing the operation of business in a residential area are going to be applied more strictly than in an industrial zone.

Where the existence of the professional activity pre-dates the construction or purchase of the property, damage suffered by the occupants of the property by nuisance from a neighbouring business activity does not give rise to compensation, provided the business was being excercised in accordance with the law. (Article L.112-6 Code de la construction et de l’habitation).

Therefore, if you buy a property and later find that a nearby business activity is causing a noise nuisance, you may well find you have no legal redress.

However, the rule does pre-suppose that the business activity is taking place in conformity with the regulations relating to that activity and that it has not become worse since it commenced its operations.

ii. Noise Nuisance from Construction Sites

As a general rule, noise from a building site is considered to be a normal activity and, therefore, not subject to sanction.

The general rule applies even where operatives may start on site at an early hour and continue into the evening hours.

So, it is particularly difficult to demonstrate ‘abnormal’ noise in the case of a building site.

However, where you can demonstrate that any machinery is not operating in compliance with regulations or the contractor has not taken appropriate precautions to limit the noise nuisance, then it may be possible to bring an action.

Alternatively, to demonstrate that the contractor is not operating in accordance with any conditions that may have been imposed concerning execution of the works.

The mairie or préfecture can regulate the hours of operation of the building site or limit the time during which a particular activity may take place. Nevertheless, these interventions occur only very rarely and in very specific circumstance eg holiday sites.

iii. Noise Nuisance from Musical Venues

This covers discotheques, as well as bars and restaurants and any other establishment that regularly diffuses amplified music, whether live or recorded.

The basic rule that applies is that the normal level of the output within the establishment should not exceed 105db(A) and the maximum occasional level should not exceed 120db(A).

Owners of musical venues are required to undertake monitoring of noise levels and if necessary present their results to the Mayor or the Préfecture.

Needless to say, very few establishments comply with this rule and disputes with neighbouring proprieties are numerous.

Where a contravention occurs, however, the venue can be fined up to €1500 as well as seizure of the material and potentially, closure of the establishment.

The mayor and the Préfecture can regulate the opening hours of these venues.

iv. Noise Nuisance from Public Infrastructure Works

If you suffer from noise nuisance because of public works then you have even less chance of redress.

As a rule, the law considers that any nuisance caused to private individuals is outweighed by the public interest that is served by the works.

However, as a result of recent legislation, if a contractor on a public works site causes a noise nuisance if they have not taken appropriate precautions to limit the noise nuisance.

Even a business that may be affected by a new public roadwork’s scheme has no right of compensation against the authorities if their business operations should be adversely affected.

There are particular circumstances when compensation is payable, notably in relation to the construction of a motorway or railway where the value of private property may be reduced. The authorities may also be obliged to pay for sound attenuation works.

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