The issues surrounding noise in our environment are pervasive. Noise is the subject of civil lawsuits, criminal charges and even websites such as www.noisefreetexas.org. People believe passionately in their right to quiet enjoyment of their surroundings. Conflict arises when one person’s sounds are another person’s noise. While on the surface it would seem that such characterization would inherently be subjective, criminal courts have determined “noise” to be objective.
Municipal judges and prosecutors need to talk about noise because noise violations are Class C misdemeanors and will be seen in municipal courts. Class C charges can arise from state statutes or city ordinances.
There are a number of laws and ordinances that fall under the “quality of life” umbrella and noise ordinances are one of those. Of all the quality of life issues, much of noise regulation in the criminal context, as opposed to the consideration of noise involved in zoning and permitting, is of fairly recent vintage. With the exception of nuisance animals (a problem that has existed for many years) the prohibitions against excessive noise by states and local municipalities appears to have arisen from the 1972 Noise Pollution and Abatement Act (federal). The federal act was passed mainly in response to human hearing loss caused by occupational noise, and by excessive noise from airports and highways. At the same time (that is the last forty years) we have seen an astronomical increase in power tools, electronic communication, and traffic – all of which add to the daily level of sound.
Outdoor noise, however is becoming a major concern in communities. As communities strive for greater core density areas zoned for industrial, commercial and residential use are moving closer and closer to one another. Additionally, high rise downtown housing brings households closer together. This close proximity is resulting in noise complaints between neighbors. As a result more noise ordinances are being developed, particularly laws that limit the allowable noise level(s) at different times of day for different zoned areas.
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