Living downtown, we know some noise is inevitable. Too much, though, is unbearable. Although the City has a bylaw for limiting public noise, its enforcement has been recognized as inadequate. Efforts have been made to revise the bylaw and its provisions, but meanwhile we also need strategies for dealing with specific situations. Here are some notes on both elements of the situation.
Noise Issues in Harbord Village
HVRA hears regularly from residents that their lives are being disrupted by noise from rooming houses and rowdy bars. In 2013, HVRA met with City staff from the Municipal Licensing and Standards Department and interviewed fire and police officials to ask what assistance they could provide to mitigate the problem. Our conclusion then was that the law itself was adequate, but provisions for enforcement were weak.
In the years since, HVRA has joined other residents’ groups in asking for improvements. See Robert Stambula’s article in the Fall 2015 HVRA Newsletter (pp. 8-9) for a graphic description of the problem and a clear outline of the bylaw-review process. In 2019, bylaw amendments were approved by Council, but residens will still need to play a part in ensuring enforcement.
The 2015 bylaw review received a great deal of public input, especially from downtown residents’ associations, but the revisions proposed by city staff did not meet with approval from the public or from City Council. In February 2016 HVRA sent a strong letter to the director of Municipal Licensing and Standards protesting the lack of attention to enforcement, and approving only the one suggestion of giving bylaw officers who investigate noise complaints at licensed establishments to issue tickets.
Since then, at the behest of the Council’s Licensing and Standards Committee, the director of Municipal Licensing and Standards has established a working group with representatives from the Toronto Noise Coalition, Residents’ Associations, construction and entertainment business associations, BIAs, and other relevant stakeholders, and achieved further changes to the bylaw.
- The city webpage Noise shows the current law (2009) and gives advice on how to register complaints asking for enforcement. (See our summary below.)
- In April 2019, Council accepted amendments to the current law, which will take effect on October 1, 2019. They include new definitions, quantified noise limits for amplified sound and motor vehicles, new provisions to ban “unreasonable and persistent noise” from other sources, and a streamlined process for exemption permits, with provisions for revocation when needed.
- Since 2015, the Toronto Noise Coalition has offered considered and reasonable suggestions for the proposed reform. Its website also traces the stages of this long process.
Registering Your Complaints
Citizen complaints are still key to enforcement of the bylaw. Please play your part by requesting action on one-time or ongoing noise problems. Here are tips on making effective complaints:
Call 311. Describe the problem, and this line will get you to the right department. That’s a lot easier than browsing through the Noise Bylaw yourself. You can get information on what department is responsible for specific kinds of noise (e.g., construction machinery, barking dogs, air conditioners), and what constitutes an infraction of the bylaw (e.g., construction machinery operating after 7:00 p.m. and before 7:00 a.m. Monday to Friday, 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, and all day on Sunday or and statutory holidays). You can ask about the criteria for legal action in a noise infraction (e.g., depriving you of the enjoyment of your property) and find out what actions the City can take for bylaw infractions. You will also be given access to special web forms for reporting specific types of noise.
Keep a record. Giving the exact address of the noise source is important. Making a list of the times, nature, and effects on you of the problem will help with any complaint. You may be asked to keep a noise log as evidence for a court case. Complaints about construction noise in a residential area can be made through a special web form that will guide you through recording the information needed.
Call the non-emergency police number (416 808-2222). For noisy neighbours, especially for noisy parties and constantly playing loud music, this is your best choice. Give the exact location and describe the range of the problem. The police are unable to come instantly with every call, but your calls about a recurrent problem will create a record. Even an occasional police visit can be very effective.
Inform the Councillor’s office. Noise that affects a large number of residents and/or persists over time is a public concern. Your noise log or list will help show the scope of the problem, as will an account of your efforts to get action from the City. Email email@example.com.