Falling out with neighbours can be hugely stressful – not to mention costly if things escalate – so it’s important to know where to turn if you can’t reach an agreement.

If you really can’t agree with your neighbour over issues such as noise, boundaries or parking spaces, and your relationship has totally broken down, it’s not just the emotional consequences you will have to deal with. If you resort to court action, legal bills can run into thousands of pounds. 

While neighbour disputes often start over something relatively trivial, they can easily escalate into a major battle. Ten foot tall Leylandii hedges have caused so many problems that the government introduced rules several years ago so that local authorities could intervene, if necessary. You may feel your neighbour is being completely unreasonable (and you may be right), but think twice before you head to the courts.

Here, we look at some of the issues that often cause friction between neighbours, and how you might be able to sort out any disagreements without resorting to litigation.

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Common disputes between neighbours

There are plenty of things which can cause neighbours to fall out. The most common include:

1) Boundary walls, fences and hedges:

Thousands of neighbours every year fall out over where exactly the boundary between their properties should lie. Deciding where the boundary really lies is often a job for the experts, but a good starting point is to buy a copy of your property’s title deeds from the Land Registry if you don’t already have them. Each official copy of a document costs £7 and they might provide information that can help resolve the issue. 

If you can’t resolve the dispute between you: If you cannot come to an agreement over where a boundary should lie, but want to avoid litigation, you may want to use the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Boundary Disputes Mediation Service. RICS charges a fee of £240 inclusive of VAT to nominate a mediator who is suitable for the particular issue and is independent of both sides. 

The mediator either will be a lawyer or chartered surveyor and will charge a fixed £2,100 per party (so £4,200 in total) including VAT, which is a lot, but is still much less than the cost of court action. This will cover an eight hour mediation session, and a settlement agreement will be drawn up once a solution is agreed. You can find out more about this service here.

2) Noise

Whether it’s parties, loud music or late night DIY, noise can be a real problem if you have to live next door to it. These days local councils (through environmental health officers) have significant powers, although the process can take some time, so your starting point should always be to talk to your neighbour as soon as possible. It’s also a good idea to keep a record of when their noise has disturbed you and how long it went on for each time.

There’s a chance they may not realise how much of an issue noise is to you, so you may be able to sort things out amicably. However, if you’ve tried talking to them, and they are unwilling to listen, or the issue keeps happening, you may need to get your council involved.

If you can’t resolve the dispute between you: You can report a noise nuisance to your council, or you can look for a mediator who can act as a go-between you and your neighbour to try and resolve the situation. If you live in England or Wales, you can use the following link to find a mediation provider in your area, or if you’re in Scotland, you can use the Scottish Mediation Network. Alternatively, your council or housing association may offer a mediation service.

Whilst the council can take action against those who repeatedly make unreasonable noise that affects your enjoyment of your home, it can’t intervene if the noise you hear is simply because you are living in close proximity to your neighbours. For example, if their washing machine disturbs you, or you can hear them walking around or closing doors, you’ll need to resolve this directly with your neighbour and reach a compromise, such as them using their machine at certain times, or taking their shoes off when they’re inside. 

If your problem is with a neighbour who rents their property, then you’ll need to get in touch with their landlord, as it is their duty to ensure that their tenant isn’t causing a nuisance.

3) Repairs

Working out who is responsible for repairing a fence, wall or shared part of a building can be easier said than done, as whoever owns it should pay for it. 

If you’re not sure who owns a boundary, it’s worth looking at the deeds for your property. You will usually have been sent a copy of these when you purchased the property. The boundaries of your property should be marked in red, and a ‘T’ marked on the plans indicates you are responsible for repairs to that boundary. If no ‘T’ is shown then it is often assumed that you are responsible for the left-hand side boundary of your property, although this isn’t legally binding. 

If you can’t resolve the dispute between you: If you can’t reach an agreement with your neighbour over who is responsible for any repairs, your best bet is to try mediation rather than taking legal action. You may have to pay a fee, but this is likely to be much cheaper than going to court. Again, check with your council if they offer a mediation service, or get in touch with the Civil Mediation Council if you’re in England and Wales or the Scottish Mediation Network if you live in Scotland.

4) Building work

Neighbours often argue about building work, especially if any changes are likely to cause significant disruption and noise, or will affect a property’s light or block its view.

If you’re considering building work, it’s a good idea to approach your neighbour before you apply for planning permission (if you need it) as this will show them that you care about what they think. Ask them to raise any concerns and see if you can work out any solutions that will keep them happy. 

If they are against the work going ahead, and the work requires planning permission, your neighbour can submit a formal objection to your plans. However, this alone is not enough to stop planning permission being granted, and your council will weigh up a wide range of different factors before making a decision.

Things can get more complicated if you share a wall or fence with a neighbour, as you will usually need to have a Party Wall Award in place before starting work. You are legally obliged to give your neighbour one to two months’ notice of the building work you’re planning on carrying out if a party wall is involved. If you’re unsure whether the Party Wall Act applies to you, you should ask your architect or find a party wall surveyor to advise.

If you can’t resolve the dispute: If you’re fighting with your neighbour over building work, it’s worth noting that they can’t actually stop your building work from going ahead if you’re granted planning permission, although they can object to it and slow the process down. The same applies if they want to carry out building works to their property that will impact you. You can object to their plans, but it will be up to the council to decide whether the work can go ahead.

If you’re carrying out building work on your property in order to make repairs and your neighbour won’t allow you to go onto their land so you can do this – for example, you might need to put scaffolding on their side of the property boundary to access your roof – then under the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992 you can apply to your county court for an Access Order. The court will review your application and decide whether or not to grant an Access Order. 

Having this Order in place means you can legally enter your neighbour’s property to carry out any repair works without having to worry that they’ll take legal action because you’re trespassing. Bear in mind however, that you can only apply for an Access Order if it is for repairs and not, for example, if you’re building an extension or making any other changes that will enhance your property. In other words, the works must be necessary to ensure your property is preserved, rather than because you want some extra space or other changes for your personal enjoyment.

5) Parking spaces

Do you have a neighbour who thinks they have a right to the parking space outside their house? Most residential roads don’t have assigned or marked spaces, but that doesn’t seem to stop some people from huffing and puffing if you take ‘their’ space, or even from putting bollards out to stop others parking there.

These disputes can often escalate well beyond the ‘notes on the windscreen’ stage, with many people wanting to always park outside their own home. However, if it’s a public highway, no one has an automatic right to park in a particular spot and unless a car is contravening the Highway Code, anyone can park where they want.

If you can’t resolve the dispute between you: It’s worth trying to stay on friendly terms with your neighbours, so seek mediation if you really can’t agree on who parks where. Unless you have the appetite for a long-running battle though (with all its consequences) it’s probably worth spending some time trying to reach some sort of compromise. It may be worth speaking to other neighbours on your road to see how they manage parking between them.

Finding out about nuisance neighbours

If you’re looking to buy a house, it can be difficult to find out useful information about the neighbours, but it’s well worth doing a bit of research if you want to save yourself a headache later on.

When you buy a property, you’ll be given a home information pack which the seller has completed. They should disclose any disputes they’ve had with their neighbours in this. However, this doesn’t always happen as disputes are often subjective. Just because they don’t like their neighbours, it doesn’t mean you will feel the same way.

Before buying a property, it’s a good idea to visit the area at different times of the week (especially if you work shifts and need to sleep at odd hours). Talk to other people living nearby and see if there has been any conflict before between the current owners and their neighbours. Some may not want to open up to you, but others may be happy to spill the beans. 

Remember that the best way to avoid fall-outs with your neighbours is to keep talking to them – often issues can spiral out of control simply because there’s been a lack of communication. If you’re nervous about approaching them, it might be best to write them a letter, or contact them by email. 

If you need further help, contact your nearest Citizens Advice. They should be able to advise you what to do next.

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