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A neighbour’s burglar alarm is malfunctioning and thus sounding endlessly. Bob calls the company marked on the system to try to get someone down to investigate the situation and they hang up the phone in his face because he isn’t the account holder. Yet Bob and all of his other neighbours would like some peace while the account holder is out of the country and unreachable. Bob contemplates disabling the system, whether with a hammer or a screwdriver. Perhaps he is so gentle as to use a bunch of duct tape with cotton as insulation or so.

Does Bob commit a crime with any of these methods or does he have a reasonable excuse/defence in the circumstances? Otherwise is the proper lawful course of action to endure the endless shrieking disturbance until the system’s owner returns?

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Noise can be annoying, distracting, frustrating and - particularly when it results in lack of sleep - it can be prejudicial to health. Having suffered it myself, I have every sympathy for people in similar circumstances who want to take a bat to the infernal noisemaking device.

However, there seems to be nothing Bob himself can lawfully do directly to the burglar alarm itself.

It is unlawful for Bob to without authorisation enter the land or premises (trespass to land), interfere with the alarm (trespass to goods) or damage the alarm (trespass to goods and/or section 1 Criminal Damage Act 1971).

Bob should call the local authority's environmental health department.

Bob should ask if the premises is within a designated 'alarm notification area' per the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. If this is the case then the owner/occupier of the premises must have given the local authority the details of a 'nominated key-holder' to be contacted if the owner/occupier can't be contacted, so that the alarm can be silenced. It is an offence for the owner/occupier to not do that.

Also, Sections 77 to 79 of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 create powers in relation to audible intruder alarms. An "authorised officer of the local authority" can enter land to disable an external alarm or seek a warrant to enter premises to disable an internal alarm.

(2) The conditions are—

(a) that the alarm has been sounding continuously for more than twenty minutes or intermittently for more than one hour;

(b) that the sounding of the alarm is likely to give persons living or working in the vicinity of the premises reasonable cause for annoyance;

(c) if the premises are in an alarm notification area, that reasonable steps have been taken to get the nominated key-holder to silence the alarm.

In addition, among other things, Part III of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 makes it a duty of every local authority to take reasonable steps to investigate complaints of noise nuisance to decide if there is a 'statutory nuisance'. If there is a statutory nuisance then the local authority must serve an 'abatement notice'. A criminal offence is committed if the statutory nuisance is not abated. No help in the short-term, but it is another lawful avenue.

The more neighbours who complain, the more inclined the local authority may be to intervene sooner rather than later. It is lawful for Bob to tell neighbours about these parts of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and suggest they complain too, and/or prime them for visits from an investigator.

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  • Would Bob not have a lawful excuse in the circumstances under s1 cda1977? Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 10:59
  • Suppose that the intruder alarm is mounted on an external wall; no trespassing would be required Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 11:00
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    @Seekinganswers CDA's "lawful excuse" is defined in s5 - the scenario doesn't seem to fit the conditions of s5. No trespass to land, unauthorised interference with alarm fitted to external wall: trespass to goods" (wrongful physical interference with goods that are in the possession of another).
    – Lag
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 11:53
  • in the scenario described, suppose the local authority doesn’t attend for 3 hours due to overwhelmed resources. Now the interference doesn’t seem so wrongful anymore. Just as I imagine that reasonable force in defence of assault would have been permitted at common law before any statutes provided the same how could such defensive allowances not be made for torts of trespass? Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 12:01
  • Who mounts a burglar alarm on an external wall?
    – bdb484
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 12:52
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Jen's answer addresses the first question.

Regarding the second question:

Otherwise is the proper lawful course of action to endure the endless shrieking disturbance until the system’s owner returns?

There's a couple of potential options that are available depending on your jurisdiction. In , most municipalities have nuisance ordinances which can be used to allow a code enforcement officer to have a basis for inspecting and citing a property owner.

Notably, this still doesn't solve your situation, but there's going to likely be a natural progression whereby the code enforcement officer needs to ensure this isn't an actual burglary occurring. So at that point, they're going to call a police officer to facilitate entering the property on a probable cause basis. If the police officer finds that it's just a malfunctioning alarm then there is a basis for the police to contact the alarm company to have them shut off the alarm.

Ultimately, the legal solution for someone being nuisanced by an alarm is to call someone who can legally solve the problem. Having the police call the alarm company and inform them that there's an errant alarm is a lot more likely to be more productive than some random person.

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    There's also alarm ordinances which impose a hefty fine for multiple false alarms.
    – user71659
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 3:36
  • So Bob should call the police because the burglar alarm indicates there are burglars, call them again if the alarm goes off as soon as the police left etc?
    – gnasher729
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 13:26
  • @gnasher729 you could do that too. For all you know, the burglar waited until the police left before breaking in. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 13:46
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Bob must not interfere with another person's property without permission.

Bob contemplates disabling the system, whether with a hammer or a screwdriver.

This would be either trespass to land or trespass to chattels, or both, depending on how the alarm system is classified and depending on what land Bob needs to occupy in order to interfere.

Does Bob commit a crime with any of these methods or does he have a reasonable excuse/defence in the circumstances?

In it would be mischief to property contrary to Criminal Code, s. 430.

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  • This notably doesn’t address the last part of the question. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 2:18
  • What recourse does he have for the nuisance? And don’t say claim compensation in the courts post facto. He will never get those nights of peace and quiet back. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 2:20
  • Somehow I don’t think that the law would operate on the basis of being interpreted so robotically while while ignoring the crux aspect of the scenario. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 2:21

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