Excessive noise can be a health hazard. It can affect your sleep, interfere with your concentration and raise your blood pressure. This has long been recognized by the New Jersey legislature. The New Jersey Noise Control Act of 1971 was enacted to protect us from excessive noise generated mostly by commercial, industrial, public service or community service activities. The law also protects against noise generated by residential uses with more than six dwelling units when they are the source of the sound that is being investigated and the source of sound is a heating, air conditioning, pool lter unit or system, or outdoor ampli ed sound system.

The law protects against both “continuous airborne sound” and “impulsive sound” (a single burst of sound lasting less than a second). The law sets standards for permitted sound levels affecting both residential properties and commercial type properties. The rules are more protective of the residential “receptors”, restricting noise generation to 65 decibels (“dBA”) from 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. and reduced to 50 dBA overnight. The rules relating to commercial type receptors is established at a limit of 65 dBA all the time. Also controlled is the spectrum of sounds known as the Octave Band Sound Pressure Level. These are the range of frequencies, much like light passing through a prism.

A Complaint Triggers Review

In all instances, the production of noise exceeding these limits is not a per se violation of the noise law. It only becomes a violation if an affected person registers a complaint with the proper agency. Thereafter, the complaint is investigated. Note also that the law is limited. The use of an emergency generator during an emergency is exempt. Oddly enough, the law applies to the periodic “exercise” or testing of the generator. Also, the law does not apply to planes or helicopters (Federal Aviation Administration FAA has jurisdiction); railroads (Federal Railroad Administration) or highway noise (NJ Department of Transportation).

In most instances, noise complaints will be investigated by either municipal or county of cers authorized by local or county legislation, which legislation must be approved by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”). These officers must be properly certified. If the complaint is validated, and depending on the text of the local or county legislation, violators may be issued a notice of violation and provided with an opportunity to attenuate the noise to a permitted level. A violator may also be penalized heavily each day the violation remains. In addition to DEP approved noise ordinances, municipalities can have nuisance ordinances in place, which may have a broader scope of protection.

Noise is also considered during the application process for a new building or project. The review Board may require testimony that the new use will not create a noise violation.

So, if you are kept awake at night or cannot “hear yourself think” you may want to reach out to your local borough hall to see what recourse you have.

James J. Delia is a Partner at Wells, Jaworski & Liebman who practices in the Land Use and Real Estate areas.

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