Know Your Neighbour

Paul Neilly looks at the causes of neighbourhood disputes and offers solutions to prevent war erupting in your street.

In today’s society of the individual, the ideas and ethos of neighbourly harmony seem to be under an almost constant barrage of attack.

Neighbourhood disputes can arise in a multiplicity of circumstances.  Sadly, disagreement between those living in close proximity is becoming increasingly common.  Arguments can range from the late night music of a teenager’s “empty” to fully fledged wars of attrition over creeping hedgerows.

All over Scotland, householders are experiencing the same problems associated with living in a modern community.  Noise seems to be the nation’s number one bugbear but quarrels often ensue over simple things such as shared facilities, gardens and trees.  A barking dog could start a wrangle.   Difficulties of a more social nature based on families with young children and neighbours with personal problems are now, however, not unusual.  Harassment can be a particularly nasty form of bullying or aggravation.  Passive-aggressive behaviour such as neighbours spreading rumours or “annexing” shared garden ground can lead to simmering resentment.

So what can you do if you are in dispute with your neighbour?

Dispute, unsurprisingly, seems to arise when both co-operation and understanding are most needed.  By far the best approach in the first instance is dialogue, neighbour to neighbour.  If this does not work but there is still a chance of having some discussion on how to resolve the problem, mediation may be the optimal route.  This can be provided by specialised mediators who are often solicitors or other professionals.  Some local authorities provide a free neighbour dispute resolution service which can facilitate a successful outcome for all parties.

For noise-related issues, it is always preferable, initially, to approach neighbours with a polite notification of the problem.  Should this approach fail, the next step is to keep a diary that can be used as a point of reference for future action.  If the issue continues, contact the Environmental Health Department within your local Authority who should intervene on your behalf.

If the problem is not just noise-related you should contact us.

There are two common legal remedies.  The first is called an interdict: a court order that prohibits a neighbour from behaving in a certain way.  For an interdict to be successful, you have to demonstrate to the court that your neighbours’ conduct is persistent and unreasonable.  Keeping a log of incidents and taking photos where appropriate are important.

The second legal remedy is an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO).  An ASBO can stop an individual being in a certain place or acting in a particular manner.  Only the police, local authorities and housing associations can ask the court to grant an ASBO and it will only be granted where there is a public need for the order.

There are various simple ways to help defuse potentially volatile situations and the good news is you don’t have to wait for them to arise.  Getting to know your neighbours will help you to understand each other better, help create a sense of belonging and shared identity in your local area and establish common interests.  Whether or not you become firm friends (and many neighbours do), this can only make it easier to discuss problems at an early stage before resentment turns to hostility.

If a situation cannot be resolved directly with your neighbour or by mediation, it is imperative that legal advice is sought to ensure due process is followed in as painless and cost effective way as possible.  A solicitor can write a letter, offer advice and, should all else fail, commence legal proceedings.  Court action, however, is likely to sully neighbourly relations beyond the point of no return and in these circumstances, sadly, the next professional who can be of most assistance may well be an estate agent.