How to Deal With Neighbour Disputes

When you’re in a dispute with a neighbour, it often feels like a deeply personal issue. After all, the problem is right outside your front door and short of moving home it can seem difficult to resolve or diffuse the situation.

There are many reasons why neighbours fall out, but there are a few steps you should take before beginning legal action.

We’ll look at your options for resolving problems with nuisance neighbours – and when you should take legal advice over neighbour disputes.
Find out more about legal disputes in our guides:
Financial disputes: How, why, and when to make a claim

How to resolve consumer disputes the right way

Common neighbour disputes and how to resolve them

Disputes with neighbours occur for all sorts of reasons: that willow tree is hanging over into your garden, their new extension is blocking out the sun, the dogs bark at all hours of the night – whatever it is, there are ways of dealing with the dispute before tempers fray.
  • Noise complaints

Noisy neighbours are a common complaint. Maybe it’s a party that’s going on into the wee small hours or the revving of a car engine.

The law says we have to accept a bit of noise in our lives – some loud sounds are unavoidable, others are one-offs.

In the first instance, talk to your neighbour. There’s a good chance they didn’t even realise how loud they were. Likewise, if you’re throwing a big birthday bash, have a word with your neighbours beforehand.

It’s when these loud noises become sustained that it can become a problem. Councils will investigate a complaint if they believe – that is, if it ‘unreasonably or substantially interferes with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises’ or may ‘injure health or be likely to injure health’.

If your neighbours are making loud noises between 11pm and 7am, that counts as unreasonable.
The council will then try to stop the noise, send a warning, or grant an injunction against the offender.

However, if they take too long to investigate your complaint or choose not to take action, you can take the matter to either the Magistrates’ Court or County Court.

At a Magistrates’ Court, a judge will serve an abatement notice to force the neighbour to stop the noise. If they breach this order, they’ll have to pay a fine.

Going to County Court sees you sue your neighbour, who may have to pay a fine. You may also be awarded damages for being victim of a ‘private nuisance’.
  • Planning disputes

You’ve just found out your neighbour’s building a conservatory that’s going to restrict your view or otherwise impact your enjoyment of the property. Or, perhaps, they’re turning their three-bed semi into a five-star hotel or some other business.

This is known as a planning dispute.

Your first course of action should be to ascertain whether your neighbours have planning permission. Consent must be obtained to convert one property into multiple homes, build extensions (or even additional buildings on the property), or turn a home into a commercial building.

If your neighbour does have planning permission, then you should have already been informed by your local council that building work is taking place.

Before you raise objections, it’s sensible to consult a neighbour dispute solicitor. Disputing a planning application is incredibly time-consuming – a legal professional will advise whether your objections are valid, while their expertise can swing the case in your favour.

When you object, it lets your neighbours modify their plans or, if your argument is strong enough, the council may reject the application.

The council is generally given around 12 weeks to respond to your concerns – if it takes longer than this, lodge a complaint with the Local Government and Social Care ombudsman. You should also report the council to them if you believe the decision was unfairly made or procedure wasn’t properly followed.

While there’s little you can do is the council approves the plans, should the application be rubber-stamped, continue to be vigilant; make sure your neighbours are abiding by everything in the application. During development, you can also make a complaint if you believe your neighbour is being negligent.

In cases where your neighbour hasn’t obtained planning permission, you should report this to your local council.
  • Boundary disputes

A boundary dispute can be anything an overgrown hedge to party walls.

If your dispute is over hedges, you can complain to the council if:
  • It’s over two metres tall
  • There are two or more evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs
  • Affects your enjoyment of your home or garden
You’re also within your rights to trim most trees and hedges if they extend over the boundaries of your property. But be careful not to go beyond this, or else your neighbour can take you to court for property damage.

While the government states you must talk to your neighbour before involving the authorities, for other boundary issues, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.

Ask your solicitor to obtain an Official Copy of the Land Registry title plan, which will show you where the boundaries of your own property and that of your neighbour. This won’t be an exact plan – it’s based on Ordnance Survey maps – but will give you a better idea if a neighbour is infringing your boundaries.

Armed with this data, you may be able to resolve any boundary dispute just by talking to them. If not, discuss your options with your solicitor.

Tips for dealing with neighbour disputes

  • Talk first

No matter what dispute you’re having, the best way to resolve them is to talk to your neighbour face-to-face. In some cases, the courts will expect you to have tried this well before it reaches them.

If you don’t feel comfortable speaking directly to them, send a letter or email instead (or use a third-party).
  • Keep evidence

Long before you involve the council or consider legal action, make sure to compile evidence. Record audio if you believe your neighbours are a noise nuisance, take videos and photos of infringements, and keep a reliable diary of the issues you face, noting the time, date, and incident.

You should also note any interactions with your neighbours and keep any correspondence. All of these will be useful should you need to take the matter further.
  • Consider mediation

Rather than launching straight into court proceedings, mediation may be the way to go. In some cases, a judge may order this anyway.

You and your neighbour can sit down with an independent, impartial third-party to discuss the problems and the best way to resolve them. As with any contract, agreements between you both can be binding, with the courts taking this into consideration should the dispute require a ruling.

The Civil Mediation Council lists mediators near you.

How do you deal with argumentative neighbours?

  • Communication: Approach them calmly and politely to discuss the issue. It's often helpful to find a neutral time to talk, not during a heated moment.
  • Listen: Try to understand their perspective. Sometimes, acknowledging their concerns can de-escalate the situation.
  • Set Boundaries: Clearly express your feelings and boundaries regarding their behaviour.
  • Seek Mediation: If direct communication doesn’t work, consider mediation. Many communities offer free or low-cost mediation services.
  • Document Interactions: Keep a record of all interactions in case the situation escalates and you need to involve authorities.

What is classed as harassment by a neighbour?

Harassment by a neighbour can include actions like verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, and persistent nuisance behaviour. It's important to note that for behaviour to be considered harassment, it must be repetitive and intended to cause distress or alarm.

What to do if your neighbour is intimidating you?

  • Document Everything: Keep a detailed record of all instances of intimidation.
  • Inform Authorities: If you feel unsafe, report the behaviour to the police.
  • Restraining Order: In severe cases, you may consider getting a restraining order.
  • Seek Support: Talk to friends, family, or a counsellor for emotional support.
  • Community Resources: Utilise community resources or neighbourhood watch programmes.

Can I sue my neighbour for emotional distress?

Suing for emotional distress is complex and depends on the specifics of the situation. Generally, you would need to prove that your neighbour’s actions were intentional or reckless, and that they caused severe emotional distress.

Consulting with a legal professional is advisable to understand the viability of such a case in your jurisdiction.

How to find neighbour dispute solicitors

Unfortunately, it may be necessary to involve a neighbour dispute solicitor to settle the matter. It’s not always easy to know how to find the best solicitor for your dispute.

We can help.

By giving us a few details about the dispute with your neighbour, we’ll put you in touch with up to four legal professionals who can provide expert advice tailored to your needs.

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