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Enquiry into a Noise Complaint to MLS

The Issue

A member of the public contacted us with concerns about Municipal Licensing & Standards’ (MLS) handling of her noise complaint. She lives in a semi-detached house and shares an adjoining wall with her neighbour, and complained to MLS about “construction noise” coming from next door. 

Specifically, she was upset about MLS’s process for reviewing her noise complaint and the delay associated with her complaint. She was also concerned that she had not been told that there was a six-month time limitation for noise complaints.  

Our Enquiry

During the course of our Enquiry, we gathered information from the individual reviewing officer, MLS management, and Legal Services.  

We also requested statistics from MLS’s Acting Director of Investigations to capture any other files within the past five years that did not proceed to prosecution because the time to lay a charge had expired. The Acting Director provided us with a list of 18 summonses for which MLS was unable to proceed due to the statute of limitations. They also advised us that their database (IBMS) is not set up to capture investigations that do not to proceed due to missed time limits.

What We Found

We found the following fairness problems:

  • The reviewing Municipal Standards Officer and the MLS supervisor provided conflicting information to the complainant about the complaint process, which added to her confusion and frustration.
  • Despite having the complainant’s evidence in hand, MLS failed to complete its review and lay a charge before the time permitted to do so had expired.
  • A lack of documentation made it difficult to determine what caused the significant delay in this case.
  • Finally, there appears to be a lack of understanding among MLS staff about the approach of MLS to the investigation of noise complaints triggered by residential home renovation. We also received mixed responses about who is responsible for contacting Legal Services for direction, and when such consultation should occur.

Our Recommendations

In consideration of the information gathered through this Enquiry, the Ombudsman made the following recommendations:  

  • MLS should immediately assign a supervisor to review the complainant’s ongoing noise complaint. This person should act as a direct contact for the complainant and ensure that the delays and confusion that occurred in the initial review of this complaint are not repeated.  
  • MLS should work in consultation with the City’s Information and Technology division to explore the availability of a tracking or a bring-forward system to identify statutory limitation periods for By-Law violations and complaints.   
  • MLS should take steps to enhance documentation practices for individual files, to ensure that all relevant actions are recorded.  
  • MLS should provide clarification to operational management and staff, as well as to the public, about how to deal with complaints regarding residential home renovation noise. 
  • MLS should have a protocol in place for consultation with Legal Services. The protocol should clearly identify the respective roles and responsibilities of MSOs and their managers.  
  • MLS should identify relevant time limitations on the complaint forms it provides to complainants. This information should also be posted on the MLS website. Instructions that accompany noise logs should identify the general six-month limitation period, and how this could impact the complaint. 

The City’s Response

MLS accepted our recommendations.