Noise and The Law

MLVelascoAccording to a study of the European Union, 25% of EU citizens are exposed regularly to sound levels above 65 decibels.

Prolonged exposure to these noise levels has an impact on the general health of the person affected, including sleep disturbances, mental health and cardiovascular diseases.

In Spain this percentage increases to 50%. This is due mainly to noise pollution from airplanes, traffic and motorbikes.

Moreover, Spanish nightlife aggravates the situation because, in addition to causing sleep disturbances, is depopulating entire areas of city centres.

Due to this tremendous impact, the generation of noise pollution has been included in the criminal code as an offence in articles 325 and 327.

Article 325 – Whoever, breaks the laws or other provisions of a general nature that protects the environment, directly or indirectly causes or makes emissions, noises or vibrations, shall be punished with a sentence of imprisonment from two to five years, a fine from ten to fourteen months and a bar from his profession or trade for a period from one to three years.

Should there be risk of serious damage to the health of persons, the sentence of imprisonment shall be imposed in its upper limits.

Article 327
– A punishment higher in one degree shall be imposed, without prejudice to those that may be appropriate pursuant to other provisions of this Code, when commission of any of the acts described in the preceding Article takes place with any of the following circumstances concurring:

a) When the industry or activity is operating unlawfully, without having obtained the requisite authorisation or administrative approval of its facilities;

b) When the specific orders by the administrative authority on correction or suspension of the activities defined in the preceding Section have been disobeyed;

c) When information on the environmental aspects thereof has been forged or concealed;

d) When the inspection activity of the Administration has been hindered;

e) When a risk of irreversible or catastrophic deterioration has ensued;

f) When there has been unlawful extraction of water during a period of restrictions.

Who sets the rules?
The precise acceptable noise levels are set by the local communities and the town halls, so there are no general rules on what is adequate or not.

In Andalusia the precise noise levels are set by decree 326/2003 that also set situations, conditions and measurement methods. For example, in Andalusia, bars with a music license, must be soundproofed to a level of 65dbA. Music cannot be heard outside the premises and windows and doors must be closed when the music is played.

Bars without music license, can have a TV or a radio but must be soundproof to 60dBA. Town halls can add their own noise regulation on top of the existing national and regional rules, so combined with the lack of information and understanding from people many disputes end in court.

As a general rule for everywhere in Spain any sound level in a property over 40db during daytime is considered a noise.

Who can be held responsible for illegal noises?
The town halls have the responsibility to enforce these regulations, meaning that a lack of action over noise offenders could make the town hall responsible for not enforcing their own regulations, especially if there is a complaint.

Since Town halls are generally rather passive in Spain, most court actions end up by denouncing the noise offenders and the town halls.

Permitted levels
As mentioned before regulation varies but these are good overall guidelines:

ftr-velasco-sound-chart-sp16

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