Homely rights

THE greatest loss of my home’s amenity would be the loss of sunlight, the enveloping of my house and yard in shade for most of the day.

Such a loss would seriously erode my house’s value as a property and as a home, and I read in this paper yesterday with dismay that Newcastle City Council planners have recommended approval of a three-storey boarding house that fills almost all a block at Waratah despite the fact that it robs the home next door of most of its sun and destroys its extensive gardens.

To increase the neighbour’s solar access, as the planners refer to it, would mean the loss of some rooms in the boarding house, and the planners report the developer’s concern that the project would not then be viable. And so they recommend approval!

If you believed one of the functions of the council and the laws it relies on was ensuring fairness in the relationship between the need for new housing and the needs of those in existing housing it seems you were wrong, as I was.

The greatest impact on my personal comfort at home would be noise, at least noise that was regular and persistent. And from experience in camping grounds the worst noise of all is doof doof, the subwoofer’s thump that grips your mind so strongly it prevents you from finding relief in even the most passive activities.

The bass seems to pass effortlessly through walls and over distances that have filtered out the other sounds of music, and so there is barely escape unless you move well away from the area.

It is the doof doof from the house next door that has seriously reduced Gary and Robyn Ihnen’s enjoyment of their home in Merewether since February last year. The four or five young university students in a rented house next door have a stereo system that cost, one of them told Mr Ihnen, $13,000, and they especially like to play it on Friday and Saturday nights.

At first Mr and Mrs Ihnen would move into their caravan on the other side of the house to try to reduce the noise, but now they move to a back room of the house to sleep on a sofa bed. For a few months Mr Ihnen would go into the neighbouring house to ask if they could turn the music off or at least down, but that didn’t work.

Then he started calling the police, and he’s called nine times. The ninth time was about midnight on Friday night, just hours before Ian Kirkwood’s report of the doof doof nightmare appeared in this paper.

When the police arrive they tell the young people to be quiet, and these days, Mr Ihnen says, the young people know how long it takes from the start of the thumping to the arrival of police so they’ll position one of their number to watch for the approaching police car, and there’ll be no noise as the police arrive. Sometimes, Mr Ihnen says, the music goes all night, sometimes for an hour before the young people go out and for an hour when they return from a night out.

Surely we can be protected from such an imposition on our right to enjoy the peace and quiet of home!

Mr Ihnen has been repeatedly to Newcastle council, which has told him that because the noise occurs at night, when it does not have staff on duty, he should call the police. Mr Ihnen says that as a taxi driver he often sees council compliance officers working at night.

The police give his complaints a low priority, then they simply ask the tenants to be quiet even though police can issue a noise-control notice. Breaching a noise-control notice incurs a heavy fine.

The Environment Protection Authority says its noise-control laws are enforced by the police. NSW Fair Trading recommended seeking the managing property agent to remind the tenants of their oligations under the lease, which didn’t work, and the landlord is happy to keep the young people paying a high rent for a dilapidated house.

Mr and Mrs Ihnen are about to seek the intervention of the court.

NSW’s laws appear to be thorough in protecting us from excessive noise but those laws fail when neither the council nor the police will enforce them.

Should we have more protection from councils and police of our right to enjoy our home? Have your homely rights been challenged?

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