Dealing with the neighbours: Setting boundaries and solving disputes

We all have to live with our neighbours but since we don’t get to choose them, it’s not always a match made in heaven. People can be difficult and personalities sometimes clash, which might lead to some rather fraught situations, particularly when you’re living in such close proximity.

In situations where you and your tenants are forced to deal with ‘problematic’ neighbours, however, it’s important to not let emotions get the better of you. Keep relationships warm and amicable wherever possible. If that seems challenging, however, then it’s crucial to know where you stand on legal grounds. This way, you and your tenants know how to act legally and respectfully and solve disputes the right way.

 

Types of complaints

A variety of factors can build tension between your tenants and their neighbours, but the vast majority of complaints typically fall within one of the following two categories:

 

Noise

The most common issue that might result in tensions between your tenants and their neighbours is noise complaints. Of course, in a perfect world we’d all be able to live together in perfect quiet harmony, but life can be noisy sometimes.

It’s not uncommon for tenants to get a little upset when their neighbours decide to start a noisy DIY project first thing on a Sunday morning or keep a party going until the small hours on a ‘school night’, but if it is just the occasional one-off complaint, it’s probably less of a dispute and more of an irritation. It only becomes a dispute when it happens more than occasionally and is causing genuine harm.

 

Boundary disputes

Whilst noise complaints might be the most common reason for a dispute, the disputes that most frequently end up going to the courts are those over boundaries.

More often than not, this pertains to issues such as whether or not it’s the duty of the tenant or their neighbour to trim garden hedges, where cars can be parked and who certain trees or shrubbery ‘belong’ to. Perhaps the most common dispute, however, is who is responsible for repairing or replacing fences in the event of weather damage.

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What you can do

If any of the disputes above sound familiar to either yourself or one of your tenants then several steps can be taken before involving the courts.

 

Keep records

From as early as possible, ask your tenants to ensure that they maintain a clear recorded history of every incident that might have upset or inconvenienced them. When deciding whether or not to take the matter further, these records will be invaluable. The details should be specific and concise – taking note of the date, time and offence.

For example, if they are playing unreasonably loud music after midnight, a note of how long it was played for and whether or not it contained any obscene lyrics would be relevant, particularly if the tenants have small children in the house.

These records should also contain any messages sent back and forth between the tenants and the neighbours and any photographic evidence you have managed to obtain.

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Speak to your neighbour

Of course, the first thing that should always happen before further escalation is to talk it out and see if a more calm and reasonable understanding can be reached. Face-to-face is always preferable (as long as someone else is present as a witness and for support).

It’s also often the case that tenants might feel intimidated by their neighbours and in these situations, when asking them to “keep the noise down” might result in threatening behaviour, a written message might be the best approach.

The neighbour needs to know how they are affecting the lives of people around them and they can’t be expected to change if they don’t realise there’s a problem.

That’s why a conversation that results in a mutual compromise is always the best course of action. If the neighbours are renting and are unresponsive, you will also want to consider bringing their landlord into the conversation.

Check the deeds

In the case of boundary disputes, if an initial discussion doesn’t solve the problem then the next logical step is to check property title deeds.

The deeds might be able to ascertain who is responsible for what and where the boundary lines are officially drawn.

These deeds can, however, also often be quite ill-defined, particularly if they were written many decades ago.

In this case, you might need the help of an expert in the field of boundary disputes.