Neighbour Disputes #SolicitorChat with The Law Society.

Disputes with neighbours are unfortunately a common occurrence. If you’re having problems, you’re not alone. Ideally, a polite conversation can resolve any problems you have but what happens if you’re experiencing anti-social behaviour, harassment or anxiety? Should you consider legal action and how can a solicitor help you resolve these issues?

Nick Martyn provided answers to these and more live on Twitter this morning during #SolicitorChat.

Join The Law Society and other firms discussing on Thursday mornings 0900-1000.

What are the most common neighbour disputes you see? Have these increased during lockdown?

With the onset of various lockdown restrictions and the government requirement for people to work from home where they can, it is perhaps not surprising that neighbour disputes have increased during the pandemic.

There has been wide reporting of an increase in problems between neighbours arising from actual or perceived breaches of the various lockdown rules and the inevitable increase in tensions resulting from the requirement for people to stay at home. From a property perspective, the focus for Mundays has been on disputes resulting from work which people have undertaken to their properties during the lockdown period. The dispute might be about compliance with the Party Wall Act 1996. This legislation requires people who wish to carry out certain work to notify their neighbour of that work and to follow a procedure to ensure that the neighbour’s property is not damaged by the work. Other disputes focus on the restrictions which may apply to the land which is to be developed (these restrictions are usually called ‘restrictive covenants’) and whether those restrictions prevent the development being proposed. But the main increase in instructions tends to arise from disputes concerning the boundary between neighbours’ properties.

What steps should a person take to resolve disputes with their neighbour?

It depends on what the dispute relates to. Trying to engage with your neighbour can often be a good starting point. At the end of the day, it is likely that you will need to continue to live next to your neighbour. The importance of trying to keep good relations cannot therefore be overstated.

If you cannot resolve the issue in this way, making early contact with a solicitor can often be helpful. The solicitor will be able to identify what the issues are in your particular situation, provide you with guidance on the legal framework which applies and discuss your options for seeking to resolve the dispute. Those options will usually focus on a negotiated settlement, through contact with the neighbours or their solicitors and sometimes through mediation. If this does not work, a more formal application or court proceedings can be considered but those steps should be considered a last resort.

If my local council is refusing to collect my recycling bin because neighbours are adding non-recyclable refuse to it, what can I do?

If possible, the first step will likely to be to try to obtain some evidence of the neighbours’ actions in adding waste to your recycling bin. You can then present that evidence to the local authority and ask them to take action. If this does not work, you can explore other options with a solicitor.

How could mediation help neighbours resolve a dispute?

Mediation can often be a useful tool in seeking to resolve neighbour disputes. It is a flexible, voluntary and confidential form of alternative dispute resolution, in which a neutral third party (usually called a ‘mediator’) assists the parties in working towards a negotiated settlement of their dispute. The benefit of a mediation is that it can focus on any issues connected with the parties’ relationship. The emphasis therefore is usually on finding practical solutions to the parties’ problems rather than focusing solely on the legal issues which underpin those problems. The courts have consistently advocated the need for parties to consider mediation as a means of resolving neighbour disputes. It will therefore be crucial to demonstrate that you have given serious consideration to this option if the dispute ultimately ends up in court. A failure to do so will likely impact on any order in respect of costs a judge makes.

Why should a person seek regulated legal advice to resolve disputes with neighbours?

It should become clear fairly quickly if a neighbour dispute is likely to be resolved by discussion with your neighbour. If this is not possible, seeking advice early is important to ensure that any rights you may have are not prejudiced by any action you may be thinking of taking. Getting advice early can also often help resolve a dispute before it spirals out of control and in the long-run, will save costs, your time and your energy.

If you require any further information from any legal services, please contact any of our teams, whether individual services or business services.

The contents of this article are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this article. © Mundays LLP

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