The neighbor sued the top-rated restaurant, complaining about late night smoking and noise and smells from its kitchen exhaust. The neighbor agreed to withdraw the suit after the restaurant owners consented to six conditions in a court-supervised compromise.
They included, moving its exhaust system away from the house by extending it by 10 meters, and properly maintaining exhaust filters, refraining from taking kitchen order after 10pm, turning off all outside lights and moving all customer cars from a parking area adjacent to the house by 11pm.
The Court said violation of any one of the conditions would be considered a violation of its order, and that it could lead to confiscation of property, jail term and fine. The neighbor could resume legal action to seek remedy in the court.
The Court order should make local districts more vigilant in issuing permits to commercial establishments that want to locate in residential areas. Noise, congestion and pollution problems are on the rise in metropolitan areas, and they risk public health particularly in communities densely populated with homes.
Most victims quietly endure the nuisance, or find themselves helpless after complaining to local authorities. Some victims have taken the matter into their own hands against their perpetrators.
There is the famous – or the infamous – case of axe-wielding ‘aunties’ who smashed a pickup truck that had blocked her driveway. She had complained to the authorities for years about the illegally constructed markets which had overrun her residential village and caused noise and congestion.
It wasn’t wise for the two elderly sisters to resort to such a recourse, as they were fined and given a suspended prison sentence for their act. But they also won much public sympathy, and a court case against the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and the Prawet district for a court-ordered demolition of the illegal markets. The Court also found that local authorities were negligent in performing their duties.
Not many victims of disturbance and nuisance in residential areas can resort to costly and lengthy legal actions for remedy. Yet it is becoming increasingly pressing, especially in urban areas, for the government to address these growing problems which threaten public health.
Bangkok is already choking under hazardous dust and smoke pollution, and the problem is some residential neighborhoods is compounded by localized emissions from commercial kitchen exhausts. The adverse impact on health of sleep deprivation due noise and other disturbance late night also cannot be underestimated.
There is a need for establishing strict environmental rules and regulations for commercial establishments in residential areas to protect public health. The law should lay down standards, ranging from limits for kitchen exhausts and permissible location of the chimney in relation to existing residential houses; limits on sewage and water discharge from a restaurant into city drainage; requirements for fire safety to protect adjacent houses; the minimum distance a smoke-emitting establishment can locate from existing residences, limits on restaurant capacity based on legal parking spaces at the premises; closing hours that ensure the neighbors would not be disturbed when they go to sleep.
These standards should be the basis on which local authorities should be required to conduct an environmental impact study before issuing an operating license to an establishment in a residential neighborhood.
There is also a need for local governments to establish and enforce strict zoning laws for regulating land use. Most urban areas in the country are divided into residential, commercial and industrial zones. The laws lack specific, additional regulations for residential zones, such as what type of commercial establishments can be allowed to locate in the area.
Homeowners invest a lot of money in their properties where they live and have lived for many years, and they constantly improve their homes, which in turn creates pleasant neighborhoods and urban areas. This should not be allowed to be destroyed by commercial establishments which locate in such neighborhoods for the sole purpose of making money, not preserving, let alone improving, the neighborhood.