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.

Tenancy Deposit Schemes…Landlords look out you must comply!

Tenancy Deposit Schemes (TDS) were introduced on 2 July 2012 to:

  • Prevent landlords from unreasonably withholding deposits at the end of a lease
  • Speed up the process of deposits being refunded
  • Provide access to free dispute resolution

Payment of Deposit

Landlords must pay tenancy deposits into an approved TDS within 30 working days of the start of the tenancy.  They must also provide the tenant with certain information about the tenancy and deposit.

Return of Deposit

At the end of the tenancy, either the landlord or tenant can write to the TDS.  If there is no dispute, the agreed amount of deposit will be returned to the tenant.

Any dispute will be referred to an Adjudicator to make a decision.  If that decision is accepted by both parties, the deposit will be released within 5 days.  Otherwise, the decision can be appealed to a second Adjudicator, whose decision is final.

Approved Schemes

There are currently three government-approved providers of Tenancy Deposit Schemes in Scotland:

Tenancy Deposit Schemes were brought in to address common problems which arise at the end of a tenancy.  If you are a Landlord or Tenant experiencing problems at any stage of a tenancy, we can help.  Please contact Paul Neilly pdn@mitchells-roberton.co.uk

CBI on Employment Law Tribunals

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) recently prepared a report “The Right Balance – Delivering Effective Employment Tribunals”.  The UK Employment Tribunal System was established to deliver the recommendations of the Donovan Commission which called for a system that would be “easily accessible, speedy, informal and inexpensive”.

According to the Report, today’s employment tribunals are failing to meet these standards with some 570,200 claims waiting to be heard and on average each claim taking around 18 months to process.  These failings, the CBI claims, mean that poor justice is done, employees with valid claims have to wait for compensation while costs soar for employers whether they win or lose the claim.

The root of the problem seems to be that tribunals have become too much like courts.  The CBI suggests that tribunals often deliver for themselves rather than employers and employees and this trend must be reversed.  It is also argued by the CBI that Employment Judges should be more proactive and focus clearly on dispute resolution using Case Management Discussions and Pre-Hearing Reviews to shorten the ultimate Hearings.  Also making available and incentivising the use of alternatives to a tribunal is desperately required.

Importantly, the Report insists that something has to be done to alleviate the problem of the system rewarding those who play it best.  The CBI calls it “gaming the system”.  Firms facing a tribunal claim must decide whether to contest the claim or not.  But contesting even a weak or vexatious claim can involve high costs so it may be cheaper to pay the Claimant off rather than fight the claim.  Further, it appears that when the Claimant is represented then it is not uncommon for their representative to add all possible claims irrespective of merit.

The CBI Report notes that in 2011/12 more than 56% of unfair dismissal claims included an additional claim.  Employers can also “game the system” by not paying compensation when this is awarded in the hope that court action will not be raised by the employee for recovery of the compensation awarded to them.

I would welcome reform.  What do you think?

Our court department can assist in representation at Tribunals across Scotland.  If you require further information please contact Paul Neilly (pdn@mitchells-roberton.co.uk).