Under Article 217 of the Civil Act, “[t]he owner of land has a duty to take appropriate measures so that soot, heat gas, liquid, sound, vibration, and the like may not harm or disturb the neighbour’s living or use of the adjoining land” (parag. (1)) and “[i]f the situation under the preceding paragraph is appropriate for the ordinary use of the adjoining land, the neighbour [is obligated to endure] such a situation” (parag. (2)). Inasmuch as noise constitutes a disruption of daily life as prescribed by Article 217, supra, a neighbouring resident should endure the noise if deemed appropriate for the ordinary use of adjoining land.
Whether daily life disruption due to noise from roads transgresses generally accepted social norms (hereinafter “bearable limit”) should be determined by considering the totality of the circumstances, i.e., nature and degree of damage, commonality of interests of injured parties, form and public nature of harmful act, injurer’s preventive measures or likelihood of avoiding adverse effects, violation of regulatory standards under the public law, locality, and priority order of land use. Furthermore, the following should be sufficiently taken into account: (i) Roads, which are critical infrastructure in modern life, largely contribute to intra-regional transportation and well-balanced development, and make it easier and more convenient to carry out industrial and economic activities; urban development projects are also carried out with the pivotal element being the construction of road networks near the project areas. (ii) In today’s day and age, vehicles are the main mode of transportation and residential crowding stemming from urbanization and industrialization is being observed; against this backdrop, the occurrence and increase of road traffic noise to a certain level falls under unavoidable changes attributable to social development.
The administrative law regulating road traffic noise mainly aims to protect neighboring residents from such noise and therefore, whether road traffic noise exceeds the regulatory standard is a critical element to consider when setting the “bearable limit” in light of generally accepted social norms. However, the occurrence of road traffic noise exceeding the environmental noise standard related to noise in roadside areas as prescribed by the Framework Act on Environment Policy cannot be the sole ground to readily establish civil liability for committing an act of infringement of unlawful nature transgressing the “bearable limit.” Accordingly, in the event of a lawsuit claiming disruption in daily life due to road tariff noise, it is deemed tenable ― barring special circumstances ― to determine whether apartment residents’ everyday lives are being disrupted beyond the “bearable limit” based on the measured noise level in the living room (where daily routines mostly take place) while opening all the windows and doors in the direction of the noise source in order to see if it exceeds the environmental noise standard under the Framework Act on Environmental Policy, rather than based on the outdoor noise measured from the noise-affected area to 0.5-1.0 meters away from the windows/doors or exterior walls of the building in the direction of the noise source.
(Source: Republic of Korea Supreme Court, http://library.scourt.go.kr/SCLIB_data/decision/63-2014Da57846_road_traffic_noise_jh.htm, last accessed 18/07/2018)