Student nuisance: Municipality has to withdraw permission for a roof terrace

Recently we discussed another case in which the owner of a roof terrace successfully appealed against a decision of the municipality to remove the roof terrace. In this blog, however, we discuss a case in which someone successfully appealed against a permit granted by the municipality for a rooftop terrace by the neighbours.

Case

The owner of a property rents his building to students. For some time the students have been using the roof of the building as a roof terrace. However, according to the municipality’s zoning plan, the use of the roof as a terrace is not permitted. Following complaints from local residents, the municipality has informed the owner of the property that enforcement actions will be taken if the use of the roof as a terrace is continued.

The owner of the property then applied for an environmental permit in order to legalise its use. The application includes the construction of a fence on the roof of 185cm in height. The municipality decided to grant the environmental permit despite the fact that a roof terrace is not permitted according to the zoning plan. The planned fencing is also higher than permitted. A neighbour who overlooks the roof terrace from the back of his house, and who claims to experience serious noise nuisance from the students, appeals to the court after the municipality has previously declared his objections unfounded.

Conflict with zoning plan

Many people assume that if a permit has been granted in violation of the zoning plan, the permit was wrongly granted in that case. This assumption is often incorrect. After all, the municipality has the right to deviate from the zoning plan, but must take into account good spatial planning. In short, this means that the competent authority must ensure the maintenance of an acceptable living and residential climate.

In this case, the municipality stated that because it concerns an urban environment, local residents must tolerate some noise nuisance from each other. According to the municipality, the fact that the roof terrace has been reduced in size due to the placement of the fencing also contributes to the reduction of possible nuisance. The municipality also stated that, when granting a permit for a roof terrace, it does not want to make a distinction between use by a family or by students, since that there are also very quiet students.

Ruling

The court states that the municipality should take all the interests involved into account. The degree of noise nuisance is important in this respect. As the municipality indicates, it is plausible that the noise nuisance has decreased due to the placement of the fencing. As a result, fewer people can enter the roof terrace at the same time. However, this has not established that the remaining degree of noise nuisance should be considered acceptable. The court takes into account that the municipality did not take into account the fact that the nuisance providers in question are students with a higher chance of a deviating rhythm of life (night hours), and therefore nuisance.[1] According to the court, the municipality should have taken this into account in its decision. The court annulled the municipality’s decision.

Conclusion

Despite the court’s judgment, the environmental permit for the roof terrace has not yet been definitively dismissed. The municipality will have to take a new decision taking into account that the roof terrace will (mainly) be used by students. The municipality could also attach conditions to the use of the roof terrace by, for example, prohibiting the use of the terrace after a certain time. For local residents, the lack of conditions could therefore also be a means of challenging the municipality’s decision. In any case, it seems that municipalities will have to take more account of the presence of students in maintaining an acceptable residential and living climate in their policy.

Do you also suffer from noise nuisance from neighbours, for example, or do you disagree with an environmental permit granted to your neighbours? In that case you can contact M2 Advocaten without engagement.

Lawyer Ginio Beij (beij@m2advocaten.nl)

[1] Also see ECLI:RVS:2018:2276 en ECLI:NL:RVS:2012:BV3229

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