HOW TO RESOLVE A NEIGHBOUR DISPUTE IN A CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN
Whereas most of the UK appear to be pulling together and helping each other, there are of course going to be fractious tensions with being isolated or in lockdown that easily bring out the worst also. Neighbour disputes have always been an issue of course, but going through an unprecedented crisis such as this can add to an already contentious argument, leading to greater stress and financial loss.
We implore you to read on to find out how neighbour arguments can be resolved! There is always a way….
REMEMBER THE TATE MODERN CASE?
Flash back to our article last year when the Tate Modern was in the news as their residential neighbours (here it is for ease of reference…!) had claimed against the famous art centre because the claimants (in this specific case it was Fearne & Ors.. Ors being “others” in a legal case), felt like they were in a Zoo because Tate Modern built an extension to its museum of an extensive 360-degree viewing platform. The visitors to the Modern Tate were able to view directly into the exclusive Neo Bankside development where Gill Fearne and her fellow claimants lived. Tricky.
It’s an intriguing case because the developer of the flats and the developer of the museum’s extension, both were in communication and aware of the others plans, with planning permission being granted. If you feel the urge to read the whole judgment given by the Court, feel free to read it here!
We’ll sum it up for you however….the Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, said:
“The court has dismissed the appeal on the basis that overlooking does not fall within the tort of nuisance.”
Not what the claimants were expecting for sure! However, it was decreed by the Judge, Mr Justice Mann, who dismissed the case, that the owners could lower their solar blinds or install privacy film or net curtains. Ouch. But that’s law for you, careful consideration, research, precedent reviews and best laid arguments.
WHAT IS TORT OF NUISANCE IN A NEIGHBOUR DISPUTE CASE?
Nuisance is a tort* relating to land arising from an action or omission which causes offence, annoyance, trouble or injury. The nuisance can be statutory, public or private. Law can be so complicated!
*Tort is the law of governing questions surrounding whether an “injured” party (the claimant), may sue (dispute through litigation) the party responsible for the injury…this would be by way of compensation for their loss. Tort is ultimately a collection of civil wrongs.
Interesting isn’t it? Which is why we, as property lawyers, understand that dispute resolution and mediation can offer invaluable stress free headaches if the dispute is really something that can be settled out of court.
Now, this Tate Modern case is of course an intricate one on many legal levels, but we’d love to offer some tips on how to be friendly with your neighbours, work together with them and offer you ways to resolve issues that may seem untenable. Lockdown right now is tough for everyone, so trying to put feelings into perspective might help for the foreseeable future.
LMP LAW TIPS ON RESOLVING NEIGHBOUR DISPUTES
Talk to them (either 2 metres apart, over the dreaded garden fence, or over the phone, WhatsApp or note through the door – which of course you will have taken a copy of…) in as friendly a nature as is possible. Some neighbours (either flats or houses) never, ever speak to each other. The little grievances get out of hand and it becomes a point of principle. Coronavirus is humbling us all and never before in our generation have we gone through something like this. Yes, we are all cooped up and every day is a little like Groundhog Day, however, we are all taking it easier, communicating more and looking after our neighbours. So our first tip is, please try and resolve the problem informally.
Sometimes we feel intimidated or are too angry at a moment in time, but if you don’t explain your feelings to your neighbours (even as friendly neighbours) they might not know what they have done, and more often than not, the outcome of the conversation is going to be good.
- Start with a normal chat, don’t go straight for the kill or be confrontational.
- When the conversation steers to the problems, calmly explain what it is that is affecting you.
- Is there a solution that would suit both neighbours?
KEEP CALM AND REMAIN OBJECTIVE
Lockdown and being a friendly neighbour (not easy all the time, we understand) is a great reminder of why we all need to work together and help each other. In a dispute situation, we’d recommend always remaining calm, polite and even professional (if this helps) in your spoken (or written) communications. Do any of us know if our neighbours have received bad news because of the virus? Are they in self-isolation? We sometimes assume we know what the other person is like, but cognitively, their or your problem might not be the issue at all, it might be an assumed problem, so…
Try not to raise your voice, swear or use emotional language.
Try to understand the situation from the other party’s perspective.
Be creative with solutions
Look for a ‘win-win’ solution that restores your neighbourly relationship (if you had one in the first place). Make a list of possible solutions, if it’s a bothersome pet, what can be done, of course you don’t want the pet to be harmed but if the barking or defecating is a nuisance then what can be done? If they are playing loud music at night, and you have a baby – maybe they are young and don’t have kids – they just don’t get it? They might be horrified at their behaviour? If you are a key worker that has worked on a nightshift, do the loud neighbours know this? Be realistic and be prepared to negotiate if your neighbour has a point.
Consider how achieving a particular solution (or not achieving it) will impact on you and your family, particularly in terms of emotional head space, time, money and future life after lockdown.
KEEP A RECORD
Keep a record of everything your neighbour does wrong. Dates are useful and if necessary take pictures and date them.
Having a list of how many noise incidents occur for example, and how long for, will be useful when talking to them, or indeed making a complaint.
For problems such as persistent rubbish in your garden, loud DIY at night, flying drones over your garden….. video evidence it. Most phones have this capacity now, so it’s never been so easy. Be tactful however, if you are showing your neighbour, remember – you want whatever it is to STOP, you don’t really want to dispute it through the courts.
WHAT IS THE ARGUMENT ABOUT?
Here’s a good one. We knew of an on-going dispute that began between neighbours that could have easily been resolved, it started off so petty and included one neighbour throwing grapes over the garden wall to the other’s pet dog. Grapes actually poison dogs. Did you know that?! The dog was a puppy, was being trained well and made no fuss and the dog was certainly never left on its own to howl or cry (this could be extremely annoying if it was). Only from doing research did they realise grapes were so toxic for dogs. For your info, the Kennel Club have a great blog here about it!
INVASION OF PRIVACY?
Now this is interesting, because the uptake of drones is on the increase, and the above pet incident actually started because of one neighbour flying his drone in the garden and the other neighbour’s wife was outside and felt violated. The husband asked the neighbour to please not fly it over their garden and the little niggly arguments started from there! He didn’t like being told what to do and thereafter began a year or 2 of silly, yet disruptive and upsetting bickering.
TREES AND BOUNDARIES
Who doesn’t love a Leylandii …..ok we are starting an argument just by putting that out there! But the scourge of the overhanging tree or unsightly hedge or lack of light is always a huge problem. It’s spring time in Lockdown right now and the blossoms are stunning and the pollen is coming (let’s not get into irritation caused by allergies…). Disputes over neighbourhood trees can cause the calmest of people to turn into aggressors. A neighbour’s tree should not be hanging into your garden, but when you cut it back (and you can), you can only as far as your own fence. Failure for either party to adhere to this can be cause for dispute. We would urge both sides to not argue about the debris…..right now no tree surgeons will be out (unless necessary) so maybe check with your neighbour to ask if your trees are a problem and if they are bothering them, how you can solve it between yourselves, and work as a team.
Boundaries between ‘shared’ walls can become a little blurred as sometimes a grey area, which is why it might be an idea to seek legal advice. If there is a risk of breaching a lease or the Deeds do not equivocally make sense, agree as neighbours to seek legal advice; or if you are thinking of doing some work in the future, maybe seek legal advice in any event so you know your rights especially if informal agreements don’t work.
TO WRAP IT UP
LMP Law want to help; our love of property and law helps not just when it comes to leases and leasehold law, but we are litigators and mediators too. Sometimes disputes have to be dealt with in a court of law to issue the correct judgment if a case simply cannot be settled or a breach of a lease, for example, is too far gone.
However, in these unprecedented times, there has never been a more uplifting sense of togetherness and so if we can help you with an issue that you really want to nip in the bud before it becomes heated, why not give us a call so we can talk you through ways to sort the problem out. We are respectively working away from homes….with our neighbours….
Ps. The neighbours we mentioned with the grapes and drones…the outcome was that the neighbour with the dog complained to the landlord and that seems to have sorted it out, as the landlord decided to sell his property anyway.
Should you want to chat, you know where to contact us – right HERE.