How to Handle Disputes with Neighbours
What You Need to Know
- Disputes between neighbours are far from uncommon. Arguments can start for a variety of reasons, though most feuds are over land boundaries, excessive noise or damage to property.
- If there is a misunderstanding over the ownership of a particular part of a property such as a wall, fence, hedge, driveway or paved area then the respective original property deeds need to be consulted.
- If the original deeds don’t make a boundary clear, then you may have little option but to reach a gentleman’s agreement with your neighbour.
- Disputed access to shared land – for example a driveway – is also the source of many disputes. If there is nothing in the paperwork to say that the right of entry is for one party only, then both neighbours should be granted access.
- Shared land also means shared responsibility for repairs. So the cost of repairing damaged gutters, drains, and roof tiles must be shared by both parties.
- If a neighbour does not listen to your requests to keep excess noise to a minimum, contact your local council’s Environmental Health Department.
- If you cause any damage to your neighbour’s property, even if it’s a genuine accident, then you are responsible for putting it to rights.
Typical Reasons for Neighbourly Feuds
Disputes between neighbours are by no means a new problem. Wherever there are land boundaries, issues about ownership or even differences in lifestyle between people there will always be arguments. Such disputes begin for a variety of reasons, yet fundamentally, they are due to differences in living practices and sociology. On a practical level the most common disputes occur over land and property:
- Disputing land boundaries
- Restricting access to shared land
- Being excessively noisy
Causing damage to each other’s land or property
Disputing Land Boundaries
If there is a misunderstanding over the ownership of a particular part of a property such as a wall, fence, hedge, driveway or paved area then the respective property deeds need to be consulted – it may be that one or both parties have been mistaken about what they actually own.
In some cases the boundaries may have been blurred over time, especially if no one has questioned them before. This can easily be clarified by checking the property deeds. In this type of dispute you may come to a gentleman's agreement with your neighbour by negotiating a compromise. If no amicable agreement can be reached you might have to take the matter to your local county court.
Restricting Access to Shared Land
If land is shared and access is being restricted by one neighbour who believes it belongs to them, then problems will arise. For example, a shared driveway should be accessed by both parties. If there is nothing in the paperwork to say that the right of entry is for one party only, then both neighbours should be granted access.
Shared land also means shared responsibility for repairs. So the cost of repairing damaged gutters, drains, and roof tiles must be shared by both parties. Neighbours with shared property find it best to get estimates for potential work before it is carried out.
High noise levels are a very common cause for neighbourly disputes. In general, it is not permissible to make noise that can be easily overheard by neighbours during certain hours of the day, usually between 9pm and 8am. Playing the TV or stereo too loudly can be considered a nuisance, as are car alarms.
The best approach in this case is to contact your neighbour and make them aware of the problem, asking them to reduce the noise. However, you should keep a diary of the noise at all times.
If they do not comply and reduce their noise levels, you have the right to call the Environmental Health Department of your local council. They will send people over to witness the noise first-hand and document the times it occurs. They are the first port of call for dealing with excessive noise and have the power to enforce bans and confiscate equipment that causes noise. They can even call for injunctions and prosecutions in extreme cases.
If you are a local authority tenant, then you may be entitled to compensation if you suffer from excess noise nuisance. Alternatively, if you are a housing association tenant, then get in touch with your local Independent Housing Ombudsman if you wish to take action against unreasonable noise levels.
If you cause any damage to your neighbour’s property you are responsible for putting it to rights. Even if you cause the damage accidentally while making repairs to your own home, such as the guttering, you are liable to pay damage costs.
When damage has been caused by children playing with balls or rackets, the responsible adult must repair the damage. You must also remember that retrieving balls, for instance, must be done with the permission of your neighbour, otherwise you will be trespassing on their property.
Damage can also be caused by trees, roots, hedges and other plant life. If this is the case, then the problem must be rectified by the owner of the trees or shrubs. This could mean trimming a hedge or cutting back branches of trees or even rebuilding a wall that has been pushed out by tree roots.
Other Methods of Action
In most cases of neighbourhood dispute the Environmental Health Department will be able to find a solution to the problem if negotiation has failed. The police do not get involved unless an assault has occurred. If you are still having problems with neighbours who either do not take your suggestions seriously or who are not interested in complying, you can take further action.
- Send a solicitor’s letter – this can sometimes be enough
- Take action in court – this can be very costly
At all times it is good practice to seek the advice of a legal professional if you are not sure of your rights.
- Dealing with neighbours from hell? Further help can be found here.
- Altering property often leads to arguments between neighbours, and can even be illegal. Read our guide to planning permission for more.
- Plan your course of action with this step by step guide to settling disputes with neighbours.