Neighbour disputes can cause a lot of stress and frustration. However, they are unfortunately fairly common. After all, everybody has neighbours. If you get along well with them, they can be a real asset to your life. But, when things turn sour, disputes can quickly escalate.
Disputes can range from the minor to the major, covering everything from noise to overhanging gutters. But what can you do about these sorts of conflicts? How can they be resolved? When is it appropriate to seek legal help? In this article, we will be covering several different types of neighbour disputes and what action you may be able to take to resolve them. So, what to do about nightmare neighbours? Click the links below to be taken straight to the information you need:
Disputes of any kind with your neighbours can be very unpleasant. It’s always best to try and resolve them through communication first, if you feel safe enough to do so, before involving the authorities. If you are encountering a dispute, some general advice is as follows:
- Your first action should always be to talk with your neighbour informally about any issues you are experiencing. They may not have realised that their actions are causing you distress. If you do not feel that you can do this face to face, you may wish to write them a letter instead – but see our warning, below.
- Do bear in mind that when you come to sell your property, you will probably have to disclose any neighbour disputes to the prospective purchaser – which might include any letters that have been sent.
- If your neighbour is living in a rented property, you may want to contact their landlord to intervene on your behalf.
- If this does not work and the dispute continues, mediation is an excellent next step. A trained, impartial mediator will be able to listen to both sides and make recommendations on what to do next. Using a mediation service costs, but it should be far less than it would cost to take the legal route.
- The last resort could be court action against your neighbour. However, bear in mind that this is an expensive process and will likely ruin your relationship with your neighbour irreparably.
- It’s a good idea to speak with a lawyer about your specific situation and what you may be able to do to resolve disputes with your neighbours.
Noise is one of the most common neighbour disputes in the UK. It can take many forms, from neighbours playing music late into the night or early in the morning to excessive amounts of noise throughout the day. But what does unreasonable noise actually mean?
- Loud noise before 7 am or after 11 pm
- Noise at an inappropriate volume at any time (including loud music and other household noises)
Of course, some amount of household noise from your neighbours is unavoidable. But, if it’s constant or excessive, it can quickly become a problem that feels inescapable. At this point, you may want to think about steps you can take to resolve it. But what can you do about noisy neighbours? Firstly, if your neighbour is a tenant living in a rented property and you know who their landlord is, you can contact their landlord about the noise and ask them to attempt to resolve it on your behalf. However, if this doesn’t work, or they are not a tenant, and the noise persists, there are other things you can do.
It’s a good idea to keep a written log of the unacceptable noise they are making. It could provide helpful evidence for you in the future. In the log, you should include details such as the time of the incident, how long it goes on for, what is happening, and how it affects you. You may also want to speak to other neighbours to find out if the noise also affects them. If the noise is an ongoing problem, you can contact your local authorities with a complaint. These authorities have to investigate noise complaints and have several powers to resolve them.
Upon being contacted with a noise complaint, the local authority will appoint an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) to investigate. If the EHO deems the noise to be a statutory nuisance (meaning that it interferes with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises, it is injuring health, or is likely to injure health). In that case, they can order that the owner ceases or controls the noise. If this order is not obeyed, the offending neighbour can be issued with fines and penalties.
While noisy neighbours can be very frustrating, it is never a good idea to retaliate by making noise designed to annoy them back. This sort of situation can quickly get out of hand or turn hostile. And, the local authorities will be less likely to help you resolve the situation if both sides are at fault. The best thing to do is keep a written log and go through the appropriate channels to help fix this kind of neighbour dispute.
A specific and frustrating type of noise is a constantly barking dog. Hearing your neighbour’s dog barking at all hours of the day and night can be a real source of stress and lead to frustrating neighbour disputes. But what can you do about constantly barking dogs and other noisy animals belonging to a neighbour?
Your first port of call should be talking to your neighbour if you feel comfortable enough to do so. It could be that they do not even realise that their barking dog is a nuisance. For example, it may only be barking when they are not home, they may be sleeping through the barking, or they simply may not be able to hear it from inside their home. Dogs bark for a vast number of reasons, so talking to your neighbour with an open mind to find a solution together is always a good first strategy.
But what should you do if you try this route and it doesn’t work? Perhaps your neighbour is unwilling to cooperate, or the barking doesn’t stop. In this case, your best plan of action is to follow the same steps as other kinds of noise complaints and contact your local authority. Again, it’s a good idea to keep a written log of when the noise occurs, how long it goes on, and how it affects you before contacting the local authorities with a complaint.
For other noisy animals such as chickens and cockatoos, or animals that are causing other environmental health issues such as bad odours from fouling, you should also seek to contact the local authorities who will be able to help address these problems.
When it comes to neighbour disputes, having a neighbour recording you without your permission is less common but can be hugely distressing. You may be left wondering, is it illegal for my neighbour to record me? It can be an uncomfortable situation for everybody involved.
If your neighbour is recording you with a handheld device like a camera or mobile phone, this is indeed illegal. If you feel comfortable approaching them on the situation, you may wish to do so. However, if it does not immediately stop or you do not want to speak with your neighbour, you should report it to the police as it is against the law.
In terms of CCTV, it is perfectly legal for your neighbour to install their own CCTV system. However, this should not record you on your property, such as in a front or back garden, side alleyway, or front porch. Again, this is against the law, and you can take steps to have your neighbour’s CCTV cameras repositioned or removed. Their cameras should only be recording their private property. You may wish to speak with your neighbour before taking further steps as they may not have realised that their CCTV cameras are recording on your property. Or, you may be able to come to an agreement in which you share the storage so you can both benefit from the safety features that the cameras can offer.
Simply put, it is illegal to record someone on their private property in any way. So, if you do want to take further steps to prevent your neighbour from recording you, you are well within your rights to do so. For example, you could contact a solicitor and have them send a letter of complaint to your neighbour. Or, you can go directly to the police with the matter. It may depend on the relationship you have with your neighbour and what you feel the most comfortable doing. However, your neighbour could receive a fine or even prosecution for this illegal activity.
Everybody has a right to be free from harassment, especially on their own property. If you feel as though your neighbour is harassing or intimidating you for any reason, you may feel anxious, frightened, or simply fed up. Harassment can take many forms. Some common examples that often come into play in neighbour disputes include:
- Threats of violence against you or actual violence carried out against you
- Threats of damage to your possessions or property, or damage being caused
- Verbal abuse
- Unwanted phone calls, texts, letters, or visits
- Harassment can also take the form of online abuse- it doesn’t just have to happen in person!
- Essentially, anything causes you alarm or distress on two or more occasions, carried out by the same person or group of people.
But what can you do about it? Under the Protection From Harassment Act 1997, harassment is both a criminal offence and a civil wrong. This means that somebody can be prosecuted for harassment in the criminal courts. Or, you can take action against them in the civil courts. Either way, it is against the law. So, if you are being harassed, you should firstly contact the police.
If you decide you want to take action against your neighbour in civil court, you need to do so within six years of the harassment taking place. You can take civil court action even if your neighbour has not been found guilty of a criminal offence. The civil court can put an injunction in place that orders them to stop harassing you. If they continue to do so, they can be charged with a criminal offence. If you have suffered emotional or financial loss, you can also ask the court for compensation.
Unruly trees are a common theme in neighbour disputes. Having a tree overhanging onto your property can be a real nuisance, with fallen leaves and fruit often causing a mess on your property. But can anything be done about them?
If a neighbour’s tree is overhanging onto your property and you don’t like it, you can ask them to trim it back. If you ask your neighbour to do so, and they do not do it, you have a right to trim the tree yourself. However, you can only trim back to the boundary line. Otherwise, you may be liable for damage. We recommend informing your neighbour of your intention to do so, to give them a chance to trim it themselves first. You can then return the trimmings to your neighbour or dispose of them properly with their permission. If the tree is in a conservation area or protected by a tree preservation order, you may need to seek permission from the council before you trim it.
In Scotland, you do not have the right to trim your neighbour’s tree, even if it infringes on your property. If your neighbour does not cut their tree, you must contact the local authority, who will assess the situation and may issue a notice for them to trim it.
High hedges are becoming more and more common as people seek a greater level of privacy for their homes or gardens. However, they can also be a source of neighbour disputes. The most common conflict occurs when a high hedge blocks out the light to your property. Hedges must not be higher than two metres tall or affect your enjoyment of your home or garden. If this is the case, you should follow similar steps to those outlined above for tree disputes:
- Your first port of call should be asking your neighbour to trim their hedge so that it does not affect your enjoyment of your property.
- If they do not do so, you may trim any branches or roots encroaching on your property up to the boundary line.
- However, if the entirety of the hedge is across the boundary line on their side, as is more common with hedges, you will need to contact the council to complain, who will then intervene if possible. Be aware that you may need to pay a fee for the council to consider your complaint.
- In Scotland, you do not have a right to trim your neighbour’s hedge at all, even if it is infringing on your property. In this case, you should complain to the local council who will assess the situation for you.
Boundary disputes can be long and stressful and are often hard to resolve without outside help. Disputes can range from where a boundary is situated to who must maintain fences or railings. So, what should you do if you are encountering this kind of neighbour dispute?
Your first port of call should be to try and establish where the boundary to your property is. Checking the property title deeds may indicate the boundary. However, this is not always the case. In this situation, you have a few options. Firstly, try talking to your neighbour about the boundary. If you can reach a joint agreement about where the boundary is located, you can avoid having to put a formal boundary agreement in place. If you cannot reach any form of mutual understanding, you can apply for a formal boundary agreement. This will detail where the boundary is located and who is responsible for maintaining which pieces of land.
However, issues can arise here when each neighbour uses a different expert, who each comes to a different conclusion about where the boundary is located. These cases may end up in the courts if mediation isn’t successful. Here, a judge can consider all of the evidence and decide where the boundary is located.
There is a boundary mediation dispute service (“BDMS”) run by the RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) designed by the RICS and Property Litigation Association and supported by the Civil Justice Council (“CJC”). Contact us for further details. In the future it may be that all boundary disputes are dealt with by that type of service, but that has not happened at the time of writing.
If you want a document that clearly outlines where the boundary between two properties is located, you can apply for a determined boundary. As long as your property is registered, you should be able to apply with the following:
- A plan showing where the determined boundary is, drawn up by a chartered surveyor
- Evidence in support of your application
- An exact line of boundary (DB) form, which you can find on the Gov.uk website
If your dispute is over fences, railings, or their maintenance, it’s a good idea to be aware of the legal obligations of the fence owner. The owner’s only commitment by law is to ensure that it is safe. Beyond this, they have no obligation to repair or maintain it unless it says so in the title deeds. There is also usually no legal obligation to erect a fence or railing unless the property is located next to a road or other area which may cause danger.
When it comes to neighbour disputes, quarrels over parking are common. Perhaps a neighbour is blocking access to a shared driveway or consistently taking your parking space. But what are the facts?
When it comes to shared driveways, each property has the right of access, and your neighbour cannot block your access to the driveway. If you have a dispute over parking space on a public road, legally, you have no automatic rights over these spaces. Even if you have paid for a permit, you do not automatically have a legal right to park in front of your house. If you feel that your neighbour is unreasonable regarding public parking spaces, your best course of action is to communicate with them about your concerns.
But what about when a neighbour is blocking access to your private driveway? While the Highway Code asks that they don’t do it, the law is unfortunately not particularly helpful in the matter. Your best course of action is probably to speak with your neighbour and explain the situation hoping that they will stop parking in front of your driveway.
If you have a dropped kerb in front of your house, however, you may have some legal recourse. The Traffic Management Act states that vehicles should not park on a dropped kerb (apart from in some specific circumstances such as emergency vehicles or with permission of the resident of the premises where the dropped kerb is located). If your neighbour refuses to move their car from the dropped kerb, you can contact the police, who should be able to advise you on the next step you can take.
If your property joins onto another property, you will likely have a party wall. That is a wall that is shared by both properties. You should seek professional advice as to whether a party wall notice should be served. Serving this notice is not compulsory but it is highly advisable – to protect you from being sued by your neighbour as much as anything else – and if the party wall legislation applies, it is best practice. If you want or need to carry out work on that wall, and sometimes work that is near to it that might affect your neighbour’s property or foundations, you need to let your neighbour know. We would recommend that, subject to professional advice, a party wall notice is served on anyone affected. If this isn’t handled correctly, it’s common for neighbour disputes to occur. So, if you have a good relationship with your neighbours, talking to them first may be the best plan of action. Ideally, you can negotiate a party wall agreement with them for minor works, which will help save costs. Remember, the party wall legislation is there to protect both sides.
If a party wall notice is going to be served, it will need to be at least two months in advance of the works starting. Once the notice has been served, your neighbour can choose to either give their consent for the works to go ahead in writing, object to the proposed works in writing, or do nothing. If they have done nothing after 14 days, it is regarded as a dispute, which a surveyor will be able to deal with.
If you and your neighbour can’t agree on the work, stressful situations can arise. In these cases, you will need a party wall award prepared by an appointed surveyor. If you disagree with the award, you can appeal it at county court within 14 days of receiving it. Party wall disputes can be stressful for everyone involved, so it’s a good idea to try and keep communication friendly and respectful from the outset to try and avoid any disputes.
Shared amenities, such as drains, pipes, and gardens, are common. However, neighbour disputes regarding these amenities occur most often over whose responsibility it is to maintain them and keep them clean. Firstly, if this is happening to you, look into any legal documents such as leases or title deeds. These should state who has responsibility for shared amenities. If it is not clear, the best course of action is for all neighbours to share the responsibility. Ideally, you should communicate with your neighbours about the matter to ensure that everyone is aware of the shared amenities’ expectations if they intend to use them.
If your neighbour’s gutter is overhanging onto your property, it can be frustrating. The law states that you technically own the airspace above your property. So, if your neighbour’s gutter is overhanging, they are technically trespassing. However, there are some situations in which overhanging gutters are permitted by law:
- The deeds specifically provide a right for them to be there.
- If the overhanging gutters have been there for more than 20 years, they may have a prescriptive right to be there through long-term usage.
- If they have been there for more than 12 years, then it may be possible for your neighbour to acquire ownership of the airspace that they occupy.
- If they have been there for some time or were built that way as part of a development, it may be argued that the land bought also included the airspace into which the gutters overhang. This may mean that the boundary line above the ground is slightly different to the one on the ground so that the overhanging gutters can remain.
If your neighbour’s gutters are overhanging onto your land, and they have no right to be there, you can insist upon their removal. If your neighbour does not comply with this request, the court has the power to order an injunction for their removal, but this should be a last resort. If the overhanging gutter is not causing issues such as causing damage to your property, speaking to your neighbour about your concerns is usually the best way to go.
Do you need a solicitor for neighbour disputes?Hopefully, any disputes you may have with your neighbour can be easily rectified, and you won’t require the services of a solicitor. However, taking on a qualified solicitor’s services can help you resolve these sorts of disputes if needed. If actions such as communicating with your neighbour, mediation, or contacting their landlord have not been successful, we at Setfords are here to help you. Simply get in touch with us below, and we will get back to you regarding choosing a solicitor for neighbour disputes to help you.
This note is not intended to substitute legal advice from your instructed lawyer. You should always consult with your lawyer directly regarding any specific queries you may have.