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Early morning construction noise, is it legal?JNU Law School answers your questions. Email:
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승인 2011.09.12  22:49:58
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I leave my windows open at night but early the next morning I hear the cacophony of construction noise from an adjacent lot starting sometimes as early as 6 a.m. Is this kind of early morning commotion legal?

Dear Reader,

As industrialization and urbanization progresses rapidly in modern society, all kinds of environmental pollution are increasing in quality and quantity. In an urban setting in particular, it appears that noise pollution is very serious. The word noise comes from the Latin word nauseas, meaning to feel nauseous.

The sources of most outdoor noise worldwide are mainly construction and transportation, including that from motor vehicles, aircraft, and railways. Poor urban planning may give rise to excessive noise pollution, like when there are industrial and residential buildings side-by-side.

Most people realize that noise pollution is a problem that can be remedied, but what is not so widely understood, however, is the kind of legal approaches one can take.

In the case of this legal question submitted by a foreigner who lives in a new residential neighborhood in Jeju that is still under construction, Korean law, and the legal remedy is as follows.

Generally speaking, if the noise from the construction site exceeds the limit that any ordinary person can stand (hereinafter the “Limit”), it constitutes an unlawful act under Korean law and the construction company shall be liable for damages arising therefrom.

The key issue in this kind of case is whether the construction noise exceeds the Limit. If it does not exceed the Limit, one has no choice but to endure it. This is strictly case by case. To judge the merit of a complaint, the court will consider various factors such as the type and extent of the noise, the efforts by the construction company to prevent and/or reduce the noise, the source and purpose of the noise, and any related regulations.

Noise regulation standards

You should note that the burden of proof is on you. In a similar case, such as a dispute between neighbors about noise, there are legal regulations, but they tend to be lenient, especially in the case of construction (see above). Regarding the amount of compensation, basically it consists of the cost to fix or prevent the noise and financial compensation. However, compensation levels in Korea are quite small compared to similar claims in the United States.

On another note, in 2004 the Supreme Court of Korea handed down a decision in the case of Maehyang-ri village army firing range lawsuit. As the damage to the plaintiffs from the firing range is unbearable, the original judgement for compensation is justified because of the fault involved following the setup and management of the range, the court said. This judgement is based on a concept that a training Airforce flight could be illegal in some cases.
In 2001, the Supreme court made the Korea Highway Corporation add a soundproof wall to address noise coming from the highway.

Lee Hosun is a graduate student at Jeju National University Law School and a legal counselor at the JNU’s Legal Clinic. JNU Law School graduate student Son Minsoo contributed to this article.

The information provided here is not intended to be legal advice, but merely conveys general information related to legal issues commonly encountered in Korea. Readers should consult a lawyer for detailed legal advice. As a service to the non-Korean community, the Jeju National University Legal Clinic (064-754-2989) is available for consultations during regular business hours, Monday to Friday.

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