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 Fall 2015 HVRA Newsletter (pp. 8-9), Robert Stambula outlines the problem graphically:
Toronto is a very livable city for most of us, most of the time. For others, not so much, and the group you belong to can change in an instant. Whether it’s a nearby restaurant’s changing business model, a new club, new build or renovation, or a new neighbour who likes all-night parties, the peaceful enjoyment of your home and neighbourhood can be taken away from you. What to do after reasoned conversation fails to solve the problem? Fear not, for the City of Toronto has a noise bylaw providing for the peaceful enjoyment of your home. Oh, only if it were so easy.
On June 23 I attended one of two public consultation sessions on the review of the noise bylaw. Other than city staff, I counted a couple of dozen residents. As these things go, sadly this was a good turnout. Most residents had horror stories of lost sleep and the lost enjoyment of their homes. The inadequacy of the current bylaw and almost complete lack of enforcement seemed as much to blame as those responsible for the source of the noise. Pity city staff, who have few tools and fewer resources to actually do much about it. One brave soul reported that the number of annual convictions under the bylaw had doubled with recent efforts. Yes, doubled, but from single digits to double digits (from 8 to 16 if memory serves) in a city of some 2.8 million residents.
Can we do better? One Sunday morning I called parking control. A parking enforcement officer arrived in 15 minutes and within another 20 minutes the car blocking a laneway (and my exit) was towed. On the other hand, a call to 311 on a Saturday morning because of construction noise at 7:00am (9:00am is the rule) gets the promise of an investigation within five business days. Why? An inadequate number of enforcement officers permitted to work only bankers’ hours. Residents dealing with systemic violations from restaurants, clubs, or rowdy neighbours can monitor and keep noise logs… all in the hopes of being one of the eight annual cases where there are actually convictions.
Help may be on the way. The City of Toronto’s Municipal Licensing and Standards (ML&S) is conducting a review of the bylaw to ensure it is easy to understand and reflects the needs of the growing city. From public and industry consultations ML&S has learned that the bylaw is outdated and confusing, does not balance the needs of businesses and the needs of residents, and is not enforceable. Proposals were to be sent to the Municipal Licensing & Standards Committee on September 18, 2015. Proposals for the Committee to consider include: making prohibited times easier to understand; increasing fines and/or penalties; developing a mechanism to communicate exemptions to residents; and developing a process to revoke noise exemptions. ML&S is also examining motorcycle noise and vibrations.
Is there any hope? Clear rules, re-engineering the use of enforcement across all city divisions, good management, and the willingness to do so are prerequisites. Imagine an officer available to counsel violators or issue orders/tickets if needed within an hour, just like the action taken when people park where they shouldn’t.
The 2015 review of the bylaw brought a great deal of public input from downtown residents in particular, but the initial revisions proposed by city staff did not meet with approval from the public or from Council. 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.
At its May 19, 2016 meeting, the Council’s Licensing and Standards Committee requested that the director of Municipal Licensing and Standards establish a working group with representatives from the Toronto Noise Coalition, Residents’ Associations, construction and entertainment business associations, BIAs, and other relevant stakeholders, and report back at its next meeting on September 21, 2016.
- The city webpage Noise shows the current state of the law (dated 2009) and gives advice on how to make complaints and get the law enforced.
- The Toronto Noise Coalition has an informative and lively website that offers considered and reasonable suggestions for the proposed reform.
Registering Your Complaints
You can request action on one-time or ongoing noise problems. Here are tips on making your complaints effective.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.