In an ideal world, your neighbours would also be your good friends. However, this is not always the case, and sometimes what starts out as a minor disagreement can escalate into full-scale war. Here are some tips on how to handle neighbourly disputes, together with helpful advice on when to contact a solicitor in your area for advice.
What's the problem?
There are many causes of neighbourly disputes, but the most common include
- car parking
- excessive noise (barking dogs, loud music, noisy children)
- overhanging trees that could cause a nuisance or danger to property or people
- maintenance of hedges
- boundary disputes
- damage to your property or garden caused by children
- poor maintenance of the neighbouring property such that it ruins the kerb appeal of your own or presents a health hazard
All of the above could be construed as 'antisocial behaviour', and legal intervention could therefore be justified if all other action fails to bring about a resolution to the problem.
Formulate a plan of action
1.The first thing that you should do is to approach your neighbour to make a complaint about their behaviour. If you think it likely that tempers might fray, you could write to them, rather than confront them face-to-face.
2.If this approach fails to rectify the problem, you could try mediation. Mediation involves you and your neighbour discussing the problem with an independent third party (the mediator) in order to try to reach an amicable agreement without going to court. Your local solicitor will have a list of mediators in your area.
3.If mediation fails and your neighbour is a tenant, it's a good idea to contact their landlord and explain the problem to them. Often, landlord intervention will bring about a quick resolution to the dispute, as the tenant may fear eviction if they do not modify their behaviour.
4.In the event that things become unbearable and you think that a criminal offence has been committed, such as malicious damage to your property or a breach of the peace, you could contact the police.
5.In cases where you think that your neighbours are in breach of public health laws, you could try approaching your local council's environmental health officer who will take up the matter and attempt to resolve it on your behalf. An example of such a case would be a neighbour who habitually leaves rubbish to accumulate in their back garden, attracting rats and other pests, which could present a hygiene risk to you and your family.
6.The final step is to contact a solicitor in your area. A solicitor's letter to your neighbour may be enough to make them realise that your complaint is serious and the next step could be court action against them. Court action against a nuisance neighbour should really be the very last resort. Unless you are eligible for legal assistance, pursuing someone through the courts is an expensive process. Remember too that after the dust has settled and judgement has been made, you still have to live next door to your neighbours.
If you are having problems with your neighbours, follow the course of action set out above, and take the advice of your local solicitor or Citizens' Advice Bureau.