Noise About Pickleball Rises in Communities Across the Country

Justice of the peace found noise caused by pickleball was unreasonable and disturbed inhabitants and that this breached town bylaws.

With the warmer weather finally upon us, millions of people across Canada, the United States and around the world are playing the increasingly popular sport of pickleball … which has been described as a low-impact combination of tennis, ping-pong and badminton.

Pickleball can be played indoors or outdoors by two or four players. Using solid paddles, opponents hit a perforated hollow plastic ball back and forth across a 36-inch (one metre) high net until one side scores a point.

The court is about half the size of a tennis court, allowing twice as many players to participate in the same area.

There is only one problem with the game: the impact of a solid racket on a hard plastic ball emits a loud thwacking sound which can be very annoying to residents near the courts.

Oana Scafesi lives in a townhouse development known as Lambert’s Walk in the community of Virgil within Niagara-on-the-Lake. The area is adjacent to the Centennial Sports Park in Virgil.

Living next to six pickleball courts with a capacity of 24 players proved to be a nightmare for Scafesi, and eventually she filed a private complaint under the Provincial Offences Act against the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and the local pickleball club for breach of the town bylaw. Section 3 of the bylaw contains a prohibition against making, causing or permitting a sound “which is likely to disturb the quiet, peace, rest, enjoyment, comfort or convenience of the inhabitants of the town.”

The case came before justice of the peace Mary Shelly in a Welland court last June. After hearing evidence from Scafesi, an acoustical engineer, and a representative of the club, the justice of the peace convicted the town and the club. In her ruling, she said, “The noise caused by pickleball is unreasonable and breached the town bylaws. The town and the club permitted the noise which disturbs the … inhabitants of the town.”

The town and the club were each fined $1,000 and made subject to a probation order requiring them not to commit the same offence for a period of two years. As a result, the pickleball courts are closed until next June.

Five days after the convictions were registered, the town amended its noise bylaw to permit the emission of sound from sports or recreation activities, but that cannot take effect until after the probation order expires.

That may not be the end of the tale, however. The club and the town are still subject to the common law prohibition against committing a nuisance, so we may not have seen the last of Scafesi’s crusade against the sport. 

Objections to pickleball noise have arisen across the country. Following a number of noise complaints, the city of Ottawa recently prohibited the Manotick Tennis Club from hosting outdoor pickleball games in Centennial Park.

Last year, in Victoria, B.C., pickleball players were banned from some tennis courts due to noise complaints.

All this makes for a worthwhile lesson for home buyers: if you’re sensitive to noise, don’t buy a house next to a pickleball court. And don’t live in a community which values noise over tranquility.

Image credit: iStock/Getty Image

Bob Aaron is Toronto real estate lawyer. His column appears on this blog, Move Smartlyand in The Toronto Star. You can follow Bob on Twitter @bobaaron2 and at his website 

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