A Unique Canadian City By-law regulating noise inside commercial premises

Good News – Bad News

In February 2016 I found the following by-law regulating sound inside commercial premises on the web-site of a medium size Canadian city. A city by-law officer and I had a phone and e-mail conversation on the subject. The By-Law is quoted as-is but the name of the city and the letter from the by-law officer have been edited to omit information that might interfere with the interests of the officer or that city.

NOISE BYLAW: Commercial Premises
(premises used to sell, or offer for sale, goods or services)

In commercial premises a person must not make, cause, or permit to be made or caused, noise or sound from a radio, television, tape or CD player or other sound playback device, public address system, or any other music or voice amplification equipment, musical instrument, whether recorded or live, whether amplified or not, the weighted equivalent sound level of which exceeds the following limits when measured at a point of reception:

(a) 70 dBC during the daytime;

(b) 65 dBC during the night

I wrote to the city by-law office expressing surprise and delight that such a by-law was on the books and asked what results it was having. Here is the reply I received.

Dear Mr. Milne,

I interpret the wording of our bylaw the same way you do, however, in my years of experience here I do not recall ever hearing of a complaint whereupon a noise meter reading inside a commercial venue was required. Typically, the bylaw is applied when complaints are received from a point of reception outside of the venue (i.e. residents living close to a nightclub or a live music venue) and a noise meter reading would be taken to determine if there was a violation.

Noise disturbances of this nature generally occur late at night when bylaw staff are off-duty so any follow-up investigation and/or enforcement action is taken after the fact. Night time noise complaints usually go to (our police force). Police will respond to late-night noise complaints if and when available. Usually, noise complaints (or any bylaw violation) are not a priority for police, especially on a night when they are busy with what they consider more important criminal matters.

If a complaint were received from within a commercial premise it would typically be considered a (workplace safety) matter, a civil matter, a labour relations matter, and/or a landlord/tenant issue where we wouldn’t get involved.

These matters would be considered to be outside the scope of the Bylaw Division’s mandate to educate, persuade, and seek voluntary compliance. It would be unlikely that the City would want to venture into this area.

The City’s Parks and Recreation Dept. does set noise level restrictions when it issues “special events” permits for events that occur on City property. The operator is required to monitor noise onsite and/or Parks Dept. staff will do so. Should an event be deemed to be too noisy all that generally happens is that the operator is advised that he/she may not be issued another permit the following year. The Bylaw Division is rarely asked to participate.

Laws are only as effective as the enforcement of them. Local, Provincial, and Federal governments (sometimes) enact laws that are difficult, if not impossible to enforce. Usually this is due to lack of resources. For instance (the majority) of our Bylaw Officers have been tasked to deal full-time (with a critical social problem) that was once (a periodic issue). It is now a year round demand for service that leaves little left to deal with everything else.

Good luck on your campaign!