Resolving neighbour disputes

Even the most idyllic home locations can fall prey to the problem of nuisance neighbours. The nuisance might involve someone playing loud music at all hours, or a dispute over where their property ends and yours begins.

It’s important to remember, that in most cases the culprit isn’t aware of the nuisance they’re causing and will generally be happy to change their ways, before a friendly disagreement turns into a full-fledged neighbour dispute. With that in mind, we’re keen to offer whatever help we can, with the focus on resolving any issues before they go too far.

Ways to resolve neighbour disputes

When it comes to settling disputes, it’s always best to try to do it as quickly and amicably as possible. There's a sliding scale of possible actions you can take for most neighbour disputes, starting with talking the problem through with them and going all the way up to court action.

Talking – try to keep things informal and friendly before escalating matters by discussing any problems with your neighbour. If you’re not keen to approach them face-to-face, then write to them by letter or email to explain the facts as you see them. If other neighbours are affected, try to involve them in any conversation as well or if you're a member of a tenant’s association they maybe be able to help.

Contacting a landlord – if your neighbour is a tenant rather than a property owner, you could try raising the matter with their landlord, their housing association or your local council, as appropriate.

Using mediation services – mediators are people trained to act as impartial referees in disputes, helping to find common ground between parties with opposing views. There's usually a charge for the service, though it’s still likely to be much cheaper than legal action. If you’re in England or Wales, you can find local mediation services at the Justice website. If you’re in Scotland, you can find them at the Scottish Mediation website, in Northern Ireland, you can find them at the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

Getting in touch with your local authority – your council can become involved if a dispute involves activities that are a nuisance or damaging to health. That might include noise, build-ups of rubbish and dust or odours from business premises. 

Contacting the police – you should involve the police if your neighbour becomes violent, threatening or abusive in any way, or if you believe they’re breaking the law.

Taking matters up in court – this should be the last resort and is likely to be expensive as you may have both solicitor and court fees to pay. You can also get free legal advice from Citizen’s Advice

Noisy neighbours

There are few things more aggravating than neighbours playing loud music, especially when there’s no let-up and even more so when it continues late into the night. If you’ve tried talking to them and the noise continues, the first thing you should do before taking any further steps is to make a record of the noise and how it disrupts your everyday life. Keep a written record of when you can hear noise and how long it lasts and perhaps try to record it so you can demonstrate just how intrusive it is. 

Then you can contact your local authority’s environmental health department. They may visit to see how loud the noise is and even to speak to your neighbour directly if the problem is immediate. If they agree it’s a problem they can issue your neighbour with an official warning. If that isn’t heeded, fines and even prosecution can follow. 

 

Boundary disputes

One of the problems with property boundaries is that the exact lines aren’t always where you assume they are. That might be because one property has slowly encroached further onto another over the years, or because boundaries have shifted by mutual agreement in the past without being noted on title documents.

If a dispute arises about where the exact boundary between two properties lies, it can be very difficult to resolve and if it can’t be sorted one-to-one, there may be no recourse other than getting legal advice.

It’s still worth doing all you can to avoid matters getting to court, though, as this is likely to be expensive. A good place to start is with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), which offers free advice on boundary disputes.

High hedges

Hedges can become a problem if a neighbour allows them to grow too high and they start blocking light to your home and garden, or if they start to encroach onto your property. Legally, you can trim a hedge without official intervention, but only up to the boundary of your property. Even then, it may be wise to seek legal advice first, as some hedges can be protected by a tree preservation order and you’ll need official permission to trim them.

The first step to resolving the problem is to talk to your neighbour about it. In fact, you must try to resolve the situation informally, before your local authority can become involved. If you do need to take the matter up with your council, the problem must fulfil these three criteria:

  • The hedge made up of two or more evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs.
  • It must be over two metres tall.
  • Its height must affect your enjoyment of your home or garden.

Please note, you may have to pay a fee before the council will look into your complaint and there’s a chance your neighbour could appeal against any decision in your favour. 

Drainage problems

The legalities of who's responsible for looking after drains and sewers can be complex. In general, you’ll be responsible for maintaining any drains that sit within the boundaries of your property, which means you can’t demand that your neighbours pay towards repair bills. Lateral drains (pipes which carry waste water from your property) and sewers were once the responsibility of property owners, but now sit under the remit of your local water company.

You should contact them to fix any problems. If a neighbour refuses to take on their share of the cost, contact the environmental health department at your local authority, who can order them to contribute.

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