Tom Christie, Associate Solicitor at Slater Heelis LLP discusses how to deal with difficult neighbours and what legal rights homeowners and tenants have.
Experiencing problems with a nuisance neighbour can often leave homeowners and tenants angry and stressed. Whether it’s a noise disturbance, anti-social behaviour or piles of dumped rubbish many people don’t know to resolve the dispute.
The most important thing when dealing with difficult neighbours is not to let the problem become entrenched. Speak to your neighbour to discuss the problem and see if you can reach a mutually agreed solution.
Keep an audit trail
If an agreement is reached, you might want to draft a letter that reflects the conversation and have those involved sign it as a gesture of good faith.
In certain types of disputes, for example disputes over boundary lines, you will need to formally record this agreement with the relevant bodies. You may wish to consult an experienced solicitor to assist as it will help if the problem reoccurs.
If an agreement can’t be reached when you speak to your neighbours, you will need to write a formal letter to them detailing the problem and the trouble it is causing. It’s vitally important at this stage not to make it a personal attack and stick to the facts – don’t write something you wouldn’t want a judge to read!
With complex disputes, you might wish to obtain evidence from an expert. For example, if a neighbour is intruding over your boundary line, you may want to obtain a surveyor’s report to assist you.
If the neighbour is a tenant in the property, you can also contact their landlord and explain the issues. This can result in a landlord not renewing the tenant’s lease or the landlord could choose to terminate their tenancy.
Types of disputes
Some issues involving problematic neighbours can, and should, be dealt with by the police. If the issue involves threats to you or your family including violence, harassment (including verbal) you must notify the police immediately and not take matters into your own hands.
Certain types of neighbour disputes including noise and accumulation of rubbish, are deemed to be statutory nuisances. If the issue involves a statutory nuisance you can ask your local council to assist you. The council have powers to serve orders such as a noise abatement order, which informs a person to cease making noise with the failure to stop resulting in further legal action taken by the council.
You should consider whether the matter could be resolved by instructing a third party to mediate between you and your neighbour.
However, it’s important to ensure that the professional third-party mediator has specialist knowledge and experience with your dispute. A solicitor can help you throughout this process.
If all of the above has been carried out and has not achieved your desired result you can consider whether further legal action would produce that result. Legal action is a step of last resort and should not be used lightly.
The legal process will begin by appointing an experienced solicitor to write a letter to the neighbour, and landlord if applicable, outlining the issues and what the neighbour needs to do to remedy the problem.
A solicitor’s letter carries more weight and the threat of legal action will cause any neighbour to take your issue more seriously.
If the letter does not resolve the problem, the next step would be to ask your solicitor to issue a claim on your behalf which will result in taking the nuisance neighbour to court.
Bear in mind that taking someone to court is expensive, so this option should only be considered if you have exhausted all other routes. There are likely to be court and solicitor fees.
The best way to ensure you minimise the chances of ending up in a dispute with your neighbour is to be considerate where possible. If you want to replace a fence on a boundary ask your neighbour before doing so, as some people may not object to the new fence but will object to not being consulted.