A musician was threatened with a fine of £5,000 by the council because she was practising her instrument during the day.
Fiona Fey was living in South London and had taken steps to ensure that she wasn’t causing too much trouble for her neighbours, including makeshift soundproofing, as well as using a decibel metre to monitor how much noise she was making.
However, this wasn’t good enough for Lewisham council, who allegedly told her that they could force entry into her house, confiscate her instruments, and fine her £5,000 for practising her instruments.
“They made me feel like a criminal,” she told Classic FM.
Fey had lived in that house from last July, and believed that she’d be OK to practise her craft during the day, as had always been the case in other homes.
However, a downstairs neighbour quickly started complaining.
Strangely, the person who complained was actually a music teacher.
“The lady downstairs is a music teacher and used to be a singer,” she said.
“So at first she said my practising was no problem.
“Then the complaints started a month later."
Fey plays several instruments, including piano, guitar and the low whistle, as well as being a singer.
She’d even bought herself an electric piano instead of an acoustic one to help control the noise, practising in a carpeted room to help with soundproofing.
Still, text messages asked her to stop practising when the neighbour was in, or not on the weekends, meaning that she was effectively down to just one hour per day.
Practise rooms in London are expensive, so that wasn’t an option, meaning that her work had to be done at home.
As things worsened with the neighbour, Fey stopped responding.
That meant that the council got involved after a noise complaint was made.
Fey then received a letter talking about the investigation, followed by a noise abatement notice in April.
Those notices can be appealed, but it costs £65 to do so, and can result in a high cost.
In the end, she left the property and is currently between homes.
She said that the noise abatement officer told her ‘you'll have to think more carefully about where you live in future’.
However, she asked: “Where do you expect me to live?
“In the middle of the countryside where there are no gigs?”
She added: “It [the noise rule] is meant to protect people from extreme, but in this case, it’s been completely misused.
“I don't know if this is a policy that’s actively supposed to be penalising musicians.
“Lewisham was the Borough of Culture for 2022, but this situation just shows a complete lack of appreciation for the arts.”
In a statement, Lewisham Council said: “We have been aware of noise issues at a residence since November 2022 involving loud music, playing of instruments and singing, resulting in numerous complaints.
“We celebrate the musicality and creativity of our borough and recognise people’s right to play an instrument in their home.
“We only intervene when we receive complaints and always try to resolve these amicably, which is balanced and can include mediation.
“Lewisham Homes spoke with the leaseholder in January 2023 and was advised that we would continue to monitor the situation. As a result of the noise complaints, a referral for mediation was made in mid-January 2023.
“After mediation, the tenant refused to agree to a good neighbour agreement or rehearsal times to prevent further concerns.
“Lewisham Homes instructed a professional witness who attended the complainant’s homes in February 2023, the report from this professional witness confirmed that the music from the residence was audible within the complainant’s home and was at an unreasonable level.
“Lewisham Homes and Lewisham Council do not make decisions like this lightly and have tried to avoid enforcement, which is only ever done as a last resort.
“In this case, regrettably, when we tried to explore reasonable offers and solutions to find a balance, the tenant refused to engage and we received multiple further complaints.
“A statutory nuisance is defined as a disturbance that interferes with someone's right to enjoy their home or is damaging to someone's health.
“It is much more than just an annoyance or being aware of something, which is why we would always assess each situation individually. More details of this can be found on our website.”