When you’re living in Spain, you’ll find that noise is a part of your everyday life: No man is an island, and unless you buy one it’s likely that you’ll hear the occasional dog barking, children laughing or neighbours mowing their lawn. But what is the noise is louder than your everyday expectations?
What can you do and where can you turn? Here’s everything you need to know:
The Noise Levels in Spain
The noise levels in Spain are generally a little higher than you might find in other countries. In fact, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the only country higher on the decibel tables worldwide is Japan. The recommended threshold for unacceptable noise, as recommended by WHO, is 65 decibels. It is estimated that around nine million people living in Spain are exposed to noise over this level every year.
- 80 percent of noise pollution in Spain is thought to be caused by traffic sounds.
- Sixteen percent of households report noise caused by their neighbours (both inside and outside their homes)
When living in Spain or retiring in Spain, this noise could be seen as off-putting, but the good news is that if you are subjected to high levels of noise there are things you can do.
The Law Surrounding Noise Violations in Spain
It is illegal to exceed the set noise levels in Spain. Disturbing the peace of someone else’s home is considered to be a violation of the right to personal and family privacy, as it set out in the Spanish Constitution. In 2003 Spain introduced their first national noise law. As well as being protected by this, different regions and municipalities have also introduced their own guidelines and regulations.
Whilst this legislation is in place, it isn’t always too clear about how it can be applied. What is referred to as ‘Domestic noise’ (which is the name for noise that comes from neighbours, pets, and the use of electrical appliances) as well as any noise generated from construction sites, mopeds, garbage collection, and festivals in the street, are out of the reach of state law. If you are having any issues with these types of noise in Spain then the responsibility for dealing with your complaint would fall to regional or municipal authorities to deal with.
Here are some examples of how this works, in practical terms:
- In Bilbao, Valencia and Zaragoza, it is forbidden to carry out any construction or refurbishing work at home from 10 pm to 8 am on weekdays. The start time is shifted to 9.30 am on Saturdays and holidays.
- In Barcelona and Madrid, the ban begins earlier: all construction work should end 9 pm.
Understanding Acceptable Noise Levels in Spain
The following chart has been produced by the Spanish consumer rights watchdog OCU and outlines the legal decibel limits both during the day and during the night in different parts of Spain. The acceptable levels for bedrooms are detailed in the first two columns and other rooms in the second two columns:
What To Do If You’re Dealing With Noisy Neighbours
If you’ve found yourself with problem noisy neighbours then here are five simple steps for you to follow in order to help resolve the issue:
1. Take Time to Talk
Often noisy neighbours are unaware of the noise they are generating. Before you start taking any official channels, take time out to talk to your neighbour about your noise complaints face to face. Be calm and amicable, and you may find that the problem will be resolved quickly and easily, without any further action.
2. Know Your Rights
If talking doesn’t get you anywhere, get a copy of the local noise bylaws. You can often find these online (search for ordenanzas de ruido) or you can ask for a copy in your local town hall. Give a copy to your neighbour and keep a copy for yourself, and then start making a list of every episode of loud noise that you neighbour makes that breaches these bylaws.
If you live in a community, now is also the time to raise your complaint officially with the other community owners.
3. Issue a Written Warning
Still not getting anywhere? Now is the time to warn your noisy neighbour in writing. Write this in a calm and impartial manner (your tone should never be threatening) but make it clear that your next step will be to approach the authorities. Keep a copy of the letter for yourself, and then send the letter with another copy of the bylaws you obtained about attached. You will need both of these things if the situation ends up in court.
4. Call the police
At this point, if you’ve tried all of the ideas mentioned above, it’s time to make your complaint official and call the police. There is no rule about when you can call (you could pick up the phone at the first sign of noise, and before talking to your neighbours directly) but the attending officers are likely to be more sympathetic to your problem if they can see you have tried to resolve it independently.
Making a “denuncia” (filing a complaint) may also involve a trip to your nearest Guardia Civil police station. To complete this process you will have to provide proof of ID and have a translator with you if you’re not fluent in Spanish.
5. File an official complaint for noise
Finally, if receiving a police warning still hasn’t deterred your noisy neighbours, the final step is to go to court. Keep all of the letters and paperwork outlined above, as well as any police reports and witness testimonies from other neighbours to help your case. If the judge rules in your favour then the noisy neigbour may have to pay compensation, be forced to leave the property for up to three years if they own it or have their contract terminated if they are tenants. Proving that whilst the tunnel is long, there is always light at the end of it!
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