Handling noise complaints

Chapters 1 and 2 of these guidelines provide information on sound management and building relationships with authorities and residents to avoid noise-related issues when hosting live music at your venue. However, there is always a risk that neighbours will complain about noise. This chapter provides tips on how to manage complaints effectively in order to save your business time and money.

Neighbouring residents have a right to make formal complaints to police, council and the VCGLR if they believe that the noise coming from your venue is excessive. Dealing with formal complaints can be time-consuming, costly and damaging to your reputation, so if a neighbour contacts your venue to make an informal complaint about noise, you should try to resolve the issue before it escalates.

Best practice

Complaint handling

Have a clear plan.

Developing a plan for handling complaints at your venue will assist staff to diffuse noise-related issues if they arise.

Such a plan should include:

  • after-hours contact numbers for you and your managers, available to staff, patrons, residents, the local council and other authorities;
  • a nominated person (e.g. a duty manager or supervisor) whose responsibility includes handling complaints from the general public at every shift;
  • training for all staff on what to say when receiving a complaint; and
  • a method of recording details (e.g. a complaints book), including:
    • day, date, and time that the complaint was made;
    • who is making the complaint and their contact details;
    • specifics of the complaint, including when, where and how often; and
    • a timeframe within which you will respond.

Receiving verbal complaints

No matter what impression you or your staff may have formed about the person making the complaint, listen to them in a respectful way and avoid making any assumptions about what they will say. Remember that they may have been experiencing the effects of music or excessive noise for some time and may be in a highly stressed state. Try to see the situation from their point of view – how would you feel? Your empathy and consideration of their situation could resolve the issue immediately.

All staff should be trained in the basics of receiving a complaint, including:

  • remaining calm and finding a good listening environment;
  • clearly identifying the problem;
  • clearly identifying what the person wants you to do;
  • focusing on the issue, rather than the person;
  • avoiding assumptions – try to see things from the other person’s point of view; and
  • considering whether you need to apologise or acknowledge previous complaints.

If the complaint is about something that cannot be rectified immediately:

  • make sure that the person is aware that you have recorded their concerns and contact details;
  • assure the person that you will notify management, who will respond (preferably with a timeframe – e.g. within 24 hours);
  • provide them with the details of someone to contact if the matter reoccurs (e.g. a duty manager); and
  • thank them for bringing the issue to the venue’s attention.

Written complaints

A person who puts their concerns in writing is often highly motivated to take action, and you should treat a written complaint as preliminary action to a more formal complaint.

The recommended process for responding to a written complaint is similar to the process for a verbal complaint, with some additional steps:

    • Acknowledge the letter of complaint promptly. This can be done with a phone call, an email or a letter. You don’t need to commit to taking any action, you just need to confirm the complaint has been received and noted.
    • Try to make contact with the author (if they have provided contact details). A conversation may allow you to obtain more details of the complaint, opening more options for resolution.
    • Prepare a written response – either accepting the problem and outlining the action you will take, or politely explaining why you cannot take the action requested.

Problem Solving

Meet on-site

Having acknowledged a complaint, you need to set yourself a course of action. Arranging a meeting with the person who made the complaint on-site can be a useful way of finding out more about the problem, as well as demonstrating that you are taking the matter seriously.

  • Don’t become defensive if they are upset about the situation.
  • Remain calm and focus on the problem at hand.
  • Investigate the nature of the problem – if it is about noise, is it related to frequency, volume, or something else?
  • Find out if there is room to negotiate: would the person tolerate the noise at certain times?
  • Try to distinguish between past incidents and future action.
  • Ask them what they would do if they were in
    your shoe
Obtain input from others

  • Discuss complaints with your staff at staff meetings. Encourage your staff to present practical solutions to how any issues could be prevented in the future.
  • Seek outside advice (e.g. sound engineers or council) about possible solutions.

Present a range of options

  • It helps to present your neighbours with a range of options to resolve any issues. This shows you have considered the problem and makes them a partner in the final solution.
  • Be clear about the timeframes needed to implement a solution and the likelihood of success.
  • Involve your neighbours in providing feedback about the issues – keep the channels of communication open.
  • Remember that legal action should always be a last resort. Legal action is costly and time consuming for both parties and is likely to permanently damage your relationship with your neighbour.

Resources

Reaching Agreement

The Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria’s website offers practical advice on resolving common disputes. The site features conflictcoaching videos in English, Australian sign language and seven other community languages. Guides to dispute resolution in Victoria are available in English and 10 other languages.

https://www.disputes.vic.gov.au/

Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria

Formal mediation services can offer an effective alternative to legal action. The Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria (DSCV) provides free and confidential mediation services funded by the Victorian Government.

Mediation through DSCV is:

  • voluntary – all parties must voluntarily agree to participate;
  • confidential – all information provided and discussed during a mediation is confidential and must not be communicated to anyone not involved in the mediation;
  • informal – the mediator has no decision-making powers. Mediators help the parties involved in a dispute discuss the problem and to reach a solution together; they will not tell the parties what to do; and
  • impartial – the mediator will not take sides. The mediator will help you and your neighbour discuss the problem and reach a suitable outcome.

You can contact the DSCV on 1800 658 528.