25 July 2012

How to ...
Deal with Neighbour Disputes

Problems with your next-door neighbour?  Resolve the issue before it escalates with this easy guide ...

  1. Common Complaints: Thousands of people throughout the UK suffer at the hands of their neighbours, from small irritating bugbears to extreme situations that can involve the police.  The most common issues for complaints are loud noise or music, untidy or littered gardens, harassment or abuse, a lack of privacy, overgrown plants or trees and boundary issues - all of which can cause a great deal of stress for the victims.
  2. At the first sign of trouble: When problems arise, mention them to your neighbour, keeping the tone of the conversation as friendly and light-hearted as possible.  If you're unable to approach them, write them a letter.  Bear in mind that your neighbour may not be aware that their actions are causing you distress.
  3. If the problem escalates: If talking to your neighbour doesn't resolve the issue then you should keep a diary, noting the date, time and description of the problem.  While this may seem a little excessive, should the dispute escalate and you have to involve other parties, this information will prove invaluable.  Contact a local community conciliation or mediation service to help resolve the issue.  Community mediators work with both parties to help find a resolution without having to involve solicitors, usually free of charge.  Contact the UK Mediation Directory, see http://www.intermedial.org.uk/  for details.

What next?

  • Noise - if a neighbour continues to make loud noise despite having been asked to stop, contact an Environmental Health Officer (EHO).  They can investigate, measuring the level of noise and assessing whether it qualifies as a nuisance.  If so, they can approach the neighbour on your behalf to try and resolve the issue.  If this fails, they can serve them with an abatement notice, which legally requires them to stop.  Non-compliance to a notice is a criminal offence and may lead to hefty fines.
  • Harassment or abuse - if you are being constantly harassed by a neighbour, whether it involves dumping rubbish in or around your property or something as serious as verbal or discriminating abuse, you can contact your local authority or police to act on your behalf. Depending on the seriousness of the offence, your neighbour could receive fines, an ASBO (or their planned successor) or even be prosecuted.
  • Overgrown plants or trees - if your neighbour refuses to cut a tree or large hedge that is overhanging your garden check with your local council first to see if there are any tree preservation orders on the offending plant.  If not, you can trim a tree or hedges to the boundary line between the two properties, but you must check with your neighbour first to see if they want the cut branches - if they do, you must return them.  If not, you are responsible for disposing of them.  In both cases, however, you cannot reduce the height of the plant.  It's best to contact your solicitor before you do anything or visit  http://freespace.virgin.net/clare.h/index.htm  for more information and advice.
  • Party Wall - if you live in a semi-detached or terraced house, the walls that you share with your neighbour are called party walls.  If your neighbour plans to start any major structural work such as damp-proofing or building an extension, they must give you written warning of this two months before work is due to start, so you can ask questions about the build.  If you choose not to give your consent to the works, the 1996 Party Wall Act requires that you and your neighbour jointly appoint a chartered surveyor, or that you each appoint your own surveyor, to agree on and follow the work as it is carried out.

Seek Legal Advice: If you and your neighbour are unable to reach a resolution via mediation or with the help of a chartered surveyor, you must seek legal advice.  First, contact your home contents and buildings insurer to see if legal expenses cover is included in your policy.  If it is, you are eligible for free legal advice, so call them directly.  If not, call a solicitor.  Make sure you have tried everything before you involve a solicitor, as legal conflicts can be stressful and extremely expensive.

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