Noise nuisance and the law

Excessive noise can damage people’s health and the quality of their domestic life. That is why there are laws limiting the amount of noise that businesses, trains and other kinds of traffic are allowed to make. In cases where national law does not lay down noise standards, such as for noise caused by neighbours or events, local authorities lay down rules of their own.

Environmental noise is harmful to health

Loud or unwanted noise from outside can be annoying and can reduce the quality of people’s domestic life. It can also be bad for their health. Environmental noise is the main cause of sleep disorders. It can also lead to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

The problems caused by noise depend on the volume and the source. That is why there are rules on acceptable noise levels around homes and other noise-sensitive buildings and places, such as hospitals and caravan sites. There are also noise standards for aircraft.

Noise standards for roads, businesses and other sources

Near buildings, the noise from road traffic, businesses and other sources may not normally exceed certain levels, or ‘preferred limit values’. These may only be exceeded if an official exemption is granted.

There are also firm upper limits for noise, or ‘maximum exemption values’. Houses may not be exposed to noise levels exceeding these values, other than in very exceptional cases under the terms of the Urban Environmental Policy Interim Act.

Both types of limit value vary from one source and situation to another. Ask your local authority which limit values apply to your own situation.

Which authorities are responsible for controlling noise?

Decisions on exemptions from noise limit values are usually made by local authorities. If the source of the noise is not confined to any particular municipality (as in the case of a provincial or national road), the decision is made by the provincial or central government. Central government is responsible for national roads, railways, certain Ministry of Defence sites and major airfields.

If the authorities decide that the preferred limit value may be exceeded, they must provide valid reasons for their decision. Wherever possible, they must also reduce noise through measures that:

  • tackle the source of the noise, e.g. using quieter road surfacing material;
  • shield the noise recipient from the source, e.g. a noise barrier;
  • insulate the noise recipient, e.g. acoustic insulation of homes.

The Noise Pollution Act lays down acceptable noise levels for businesses in industrial areas. The Environmental Management (General Rules for Establishments) Decree lays down general environmental rules on noise for commercial operations located elsewhere. Businesses that comply with the Decree do not usually need to apply for an environmental licence.

Rules for noise nuisance caused by neighbours and at work

There are no statutory limits for noise caused by neighbours. Discussing the problem with your neighbours, a mediator or the police may help.

The Working Conditions Act lays down rules on loud noise at work. For more information on noise at work, please go to the Working Conditions portal (Arboportaal, in Dutch only).