How Not to Sue Your NeighbourPosted: 27th July 2016
Next door’s teenagers are in the habit of listening to music with a pounding bass line. Next door made audible hurtful remarks when you and your friends were enjoying a barbecue outdoors. Next door’s garden is in a terrible state and lowers the look of the street. Your neighbour is always making comments about your garden and doesn’t understand that you go out to work and can’t spend all your time gardening. Your neighbour parks in an inconsiderate way – actually, this one ought to go to the top of the list. Parking is probably the number one cause of friction between neighbours, for the understandable reason that many houses were built before the days when households had more than one car each.
It is hard to underestimate the enormous aggravation that a neighbour dispute gives you. After all, the person is right there and you can’t ignore it. The whole thing gets right under your skin.
The first step (after taking a deep breath and counting to ten) is to go and talk to the neighbour. Many people feel they just can’t do this. Either they are too angry to do themselves justice, or they think the neighbour won’t listen to reason. But most neighbours are not actually evil (if you have the misfortune of sharing a driveway or a bin access with the Demon Lord Cthulu, this paragraph doesn’t apply to you). You may be surprised what can be achieved with a bit of diplomacy over a cup of coffee.
Talking, however, may not be enough, especially with repeat offenders. When the neighbour’s white van is blocking you in and making you late for work again, it’s natural to think of taking him to court. The urge to litigate comes from sheer frustration and also from the desire to have them told off by someone in authority, but court action is almost certainly a bad idea. Apart from the eye-watering expense, this is because:
1. The existence of the dispute will make your house unsaleable.
2. Whether you win or you lose, you still have to live next door to them afterwards. Clients very often say to me that “Things can’t get any worse!” but believe me, they can.
3. The judge may not treat your case with the seriousness which you feel it deserves (and when you think about the other terrible cases the judge is likely to be involved in, you’ll see why this is so).
Fortunately there is lots of help available for warring neighbours, without going to court.
• A quick visit to a solicitor (or the CAB) may give you practical ammunition about the meaning of a document, or your rights over the neighbour’s high hedge. Use your solicitor as a resource rather than getting them to write angry letters for you. By and large, angry letters don’t help.
• Many areas run community neighbour mediation schemes, where for free or for a modest fee you and your neighbour will be visited by a neighbourhood mediator who has specific training in helping parties reach their own acceptable solution. Check with your local authority – in Durham, for example, a programme called Unite offers this service.
• The Land Registry can help you and your neighbour work out exactly where your boundary ought to be: see https://www.gov.uk/your-property-boundaries.
• Your local authority may be able to help with noise, problems to do with hygiene or smells, or anti-social behaviour.
• Possibly a different neighbour or respected person locally might be willing to act as a neutral third party.
Try one of these; try all of them; don’t give up; don’t go to court. Good luck!