COLUMN: What Kind of a Noise Annoys a Neighbour?
At Tuesday’s Council meeting, a Rossland resident complained about noise from a neighbour’s yard. “First it was their dog, now it’s chickens,” he declared. His battle with his neighbours has been long, acrimonious and on-going, and has included his displeasure with the appearance of their backyard vegetable garden.
He also complained that when a raccoon killed one of his neighbour’s chickens, the raccoon dragged remains of the chicken’s carcass into his yard, where, he felt, his dog’s health was endangered. “Who knows if those chickens are healthy?” he demanded. “Does the City check them? And what about the raccoon — what if my dog gets sick? Who’s going to pay?” He said he thought he should be protected from noise and risks from potentially disease-ridden chickens and raccoons. McLellan said, “What if a coyote kills a gopher and drags it into your yard? We can’t regulate that kind of thing.”
At the Council meeting, the complaining resident suggested that Council should review the “Good Neighbour Bylaw” and amend it to provide more protection from noise disturbance. He received some sympathy; Kruysse related how his neighbourhood is afflicted with dogs that bark whenever anyone walks by, and said, “I hear this stuff all day, and it’s totally grating. A neighbour shouldn’t have to put up with that kind of stuff, whether it’s a barking dog, or whatever the nuisance is. People are entitled to quiet enjoyment of their property.” He went on to comment that some municipalities have imposed limits on decibel levels, but acknowledged that chickens are not likely to reach any reasonable limit on decibels.
Councillor McLellan was blunt in stating that he would not support a prohibition on keeping chickens in town. “When we go to our place at the lake, the crows wake us up every morning,” he commented. “I’ve had experience with chickens,” he added, “and they’re not loud. I don’t think it’s a chicken issue. I think it’s a neighbourhood dispute.” He said he has gone by the chicken coop in question, and notes that it has windows on two sides. He suggested that the windows of the chicken coop in question could be covered with a tarp at night to keep it darker until later in the morning, which would tend to keep the chickens quieter. He added that noise is a difficult thing to regulate, partly because “it’s a subjective thing.”
“Shall I phone you up at five o’clock in the morning when they start clucking?” asked the resident. McLellan responded, “I’m up at five. Sure, phone me.” and reeled off his phone number.
At an earlier meeting, another resident complained to Council about a man who appears to actively enjoy disturbing his neighbours with extremely loud vehicle exhaust noise, early in the morning. There are many descriptors for people like that, one of the mildest being “jerk.”
In the case of the noisy exhaust, my sympathy is entirely with the jerk’s neighbours. There is no excuse for deliberately making one’s vehicle exhaust unnecessarily loud, and continuing to disturb an entire neighbourhood with it at an early hour — or any hour.
Chickens are another matter. They cluck. Sometimes they cackle. Quite a few Rossland households have chickens, and this is the only complaint I have heard about noise from chickens. Chickens’ clucking, cackling and occasional squawking is not as loud, carrying or persistent as many dogs’ barking, and there are probably more dogs than chickens in town. Besides, chickens lay eggs, and their droppings are not only confined to their yards but also are wonderful for enriching garden soil, unlike dog and cat poop — and chickens themselves are very usefully edible.
Common urban noises we all tolerate to some extent include jake brakes, back-up beepers, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, weed whippers, boom-box cars driven by the soon-to-be-somewhat-deaf, car alarms and some neighbours who don’t care who they disturb with noisy drunken backyard parties — loud thumping music, raucous shouting and swearing — until the not-so-wee hours of the morning, not to mention more natural sounds such as the happy (or unhappy) shrieks of children playing outdoors during the day, the yipping of coyotes at night, and cries of jays and the occasional cawing of crows or ravens.
At what point should bylaw enforcement intervene when one neighbour’s noises disturb another? Should decibel levels be the only determining factor, or should other factors be considered — factors such as the degree of necessity for whatever causes the noise, the pitch or frequency of the noise, how often it’s repeated, and at what times of the day or night? Kruysse commented that people are entitled to “quiet enjoyment of their property,” but I think we must all be willing to tolerate reasonable levels of noise and other botheration; just how quiet must our surrounding neighbours and their animals be? What’s reasonable?
We may never all agree on that.