As the festive seasons draws near and the frequency of functions and events steadily increases, it is important that licensed premises continue to ensure compliance with their legislative obligations notwithstanding the unique challenges that the Christmas and New Year period presents.

One of the most commonly overlooked but nevertheless crucial issues affecting licensed premises at this time of year are complaints about unreasonable noise, which are estimated to be the source of one third of all complaints received by the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation (OLGR) each year.

A large misconception about unreasonable noise is that a venue will avoid creating unreasonable noise simply by complying with the noise conditions imposed by its licence. In reality, the steps that a venue must take to ensure that it is in fact operating within acceptable noise levels are far more complicated.

What is “unreasonable” noise?

Under the Liquor Act 1992 (Qld) (the Act), “unreasonable noise” in relation to a licensed premises means noise that:

  • contravenes a compliance order that applies to the premises; or
  • contravenes a condition that applies to the licence or permit for the premises; or
  • exceeds the limits (if any) prescribed by regulation.

In considering the above, licensees should be aware that regulation 40 of the Liquor Regulation 2002 (Qld) (the Regulations) prescribes that unreasonable noise is:

  • between 6am and 10pm – noise exceeding the background level by more than 10dB(A); and
  • between 10pm and 6am – noise exceeding the background level by more than 8dB.

Consequently, even if a venue is operating within the noise conditions prescribed by its licence, it is still possible for the noise produced by a venue to be “unreasonable” and in breach of the Act if there is a sufficient difference between the noise generated by a venue and the level of the relevant background noise.

How is noise measured?

Licensees should be aware that when determining whether noise levels are unreasonable, OLGR will generally conduct measurements from the residence or business that is closest to the source of the noise and/or the complainant’s residence.

Consequently, if there have been any significant alterations or other physical modifications to the area surrounding your premises since an acoustic report was last conducted (for example, the construction of a building) then it is possible that the noise levels created by you may have changed since the last date of measurement and could potentially be even higher than when last assessed.

Penalties for unreasonable noise

If your licensed premises is deemed by OLGR to be creating unreasonable noise, then you may be issued with a written notice requiring the offending noise to be reduced to a reasonable level.

If you fail to comply with this notice, then OLGR may enforce the following penalties:

  • an on-the-spot fine of up to $2,356.00;
  • prosecution, which carries a maximum fine of $11,780.00;
  • the issue of a compliance order and/or a variation of licence or permit conditions; or
  • disciplinary action (ranging from fines to cancellation of the licence or permit).

Steps that venues can take

In view of the serious nature of the above penalties, if your licensed premises receive complaints relating to excessive noise or you suspect that your venue may be producing excessive levels of noise, it may be advisable to undertake a thorough investigation into which activities conducted on your premises could be the source of any persistent unreasonable noise (if any) and take steps to reduce the noise produced by those activities.

If complaints regarding unreasonable noise continue, then it may also be prudent to obtain an updated acoustic report for your premises prepared by a qualified acoustic engineer to assist in determining if your premises is creating unreasonable noise and, if so, investigate other options for improving the acoustics of your venue to reduce excessive noise level. This will avoid your premises becoming liable for adverse action by OLGR.