What action can you take if you have a disagreement?
It’s no surprise that having a dispute with your neighbours can make life pretty miserable, and can affect both its value and your ability to sell your property in the future.
Whether you’re having a disagreement about noise levels or who owns a bit of land, it can help to know exactly what options are available to you when it comes to resolving these issues.
It is always the case that, when a dispute arises between you and your neighbours, the best first plan of action is to talk to them about it. Trying to resolve the problem by communicating with them is not only less costly and stressful than legal options, it also keeps the lines of communication open between you and therefore is best for your future relationship.
It may be difficult at times, but if you manage to speak to them calmly about the situation, or to write to them if you feel there is too much anger between you, you’re less likely to encounter insurmountable problems later on.
Many local areas in the UK have dedicated mediation services to help you arrive at a solution that suits both of you, and it is generally recommended that you at least attempt this before embarking on any legal or formal courses of action.
Indeed, often once cases like this come to court, the judge will order you to attempt mediation if you have not already done so.
If you find it too difficult to talk to your neighbours face to face, the mediation service may be able to act as a go between in the communication process, representing both of your interests.
If the landlord is a local authority or a housing association, they may have a formal procedure for this, however if it’s a private landlord they should also be in a good position to approach the tenant about the issue.
If the dispute that you’re having is caused by the neighbour committing what you believe to be an offence, for example assault or harassment, you should contact the police.
If the neighbour’s activity constitutes a breach of laws relating to pollution or health, you should contact the Environmental Health Department. If you believe that the neighbour has breached planning regulations, you should report it to the planning department within your local authority.
Many neighbour disputes are caused by noise nuisance. If your neighbour is making too much noise, you should firstly keep a record of the noise in terms of how long it lasts, at what times of day etc. You can then contact your local council, each of which has their own set procedure for handling complaints relating to noise.
Typically, the Environmental Health Department will send officers out to attempt to witness the noise first hand and create a record of it. They can then serve the neighbour with an order to either cut down or stop the noise, and on some occasions will remove equipment causing the noise.
In some cases the neighbour may actually be prosecuted and fined if they fail to comply with the local authority’s orders, but this is rare and can take many months.
Another common cause for problems between neighbours is disputed land. If you and your neighbour disagree about where the boundary is between the land that you own, you will need to check the property deeds documents, which should indicate clearly where one property ends and the other begins.
If the boundaries have not been respected, for example one person has encroached on the other’s land over time, it’s best where possible to reach some agreement between you about what to do. If this fails you will need to consult a solicitor and in some cases go through the court system, although naturally this is a last, expensive resort.
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors may be able to give you some initial advice for free via their help-lines if you’re in this situation.
If you do end up taking your dispute to the courts, it can be extremely expensive, however your home contents insurance may cover some of your legal expenses.
Trees and Bushes
Often, trees and bushes will encroach over property lines over time, potentially causing damage.
If tree branches or roots have encroached on your property and you believe that they may damage it, you should contact the local authority, who will have a formal process for dealing with this.
If your neighbour has a high hedge that is blocking out light you may also be able to complain to the local authority, although in some cases they will charge you a fee for handling this.
If your property is such that you need access to your neighbour’s land in order to carry out repairs or maintenance to your own, and your neighbour is refusing to allow you, you should first check the property’s legal documents in case they grant you right of entry. If they do not, you can apply to the court for an access order. There is a fee for this service, and it’s probably best to consult a solicitor before initiating it.
Whatever your issue is, if you find yourself having to go down a legal route, you can first get free advice from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, which can save you a considerable amount in legal costs.
In many cases, initial legal proceedings may be enough to solve your problem, for example by sending a solicitor’s letter to your neighbour so that they know you are determined to resolve the issue.
You may therefore be able to use the power of the legal system without having to actually go to court, which is not only costly, but will almost certainly damage your relationship with the neighbour in the long term.