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Neighbour disputes

This information applies to Scotland only

What is in this information

It is not possible to provide a standard set of guidelines for dealing with every neighbour problem. This is because the problems are so varied and the solution to any particular dispute will depend on the individual circumstances of the case.

This information is divided into two parts:-

Common neighbour disputes - which describes some common disputes and indicates which of the alternative courses of action would be most suitable in each case.

Resolving neighbour disputes - which outlines the range of actions that may need to be taken to resolve a neighbour dispute.

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Common neighbour problems

Boundary disputes

Establishing the boundaries and ownership

If a dispute arises between neighbours about the boundary between their property it will be necessary to establish exactly where the boundary lies. You may need to check the title deeds of the properties to establish the position of boundaries.

If you think that the boundaries are not defined in the title deeds then you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Duty to erect a barrier

The title deeds of a property may specify that the owner must erect a fence, wall or other barrier and may even stipulate the type of barrier to be erected. The title deeds can also contain restrictions on putting up a barrier, for example on open plan housing estates. If the deeds make no reference to fences or barriers then, generally, the property owner is under no obligation to erect one.

Who can use or repair a barrier

In order to establish who can use or repair a barrier, you first need to establish who owns it. The ownership of the barrier may be stated in the title deeds of the property, as may the responsibility for repairs and maintenance. If the deeds do not refer to the rights to use and repair a barrier, then you should seek legal advice.

If the barrier belongs to one owner, s/he can use it as s/he wishes, without the neighbour’s consent, providing it is safe. The neighbour has no rights over the barrier. For example, s/he could not use it to support trailing plants without the owner’s permission. If the fence is jointly owned, each neighbour can use it for support, provided neither makes it unsafe.

A property owner is not obliged to repair her/his barrier unless the title deeds says so. However, if the barrier injures a person or damages her/his property, s/he may be liable for damages. It is therefore in the owner’s interests to keep the barrier in a reasonable state of repair.

CCTV

If you have concerns about how CCTV is being used by a neighbour or your landlord, there is further information on the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) website at www.ico.org.uk.

Children

Noisy children

Noisy children in themselves are not a ‘nuisance’. If you are disturbed by a neighbour’s children, for example, if you are a shift worker who wants to sleep during the day, the only real solution is a conciliatory approach to the neighbour. A local mediation scheme may be able to help neighbours to come to an agreement that suits both parties. (See under heading Resolving neighbour disputes).

Damage caused by children

If a neighbour’s child causes damage to your property, a conciliatory approach to settle the matter is probably the best solution. You could approach the child’s parents or guardian and ask them to pay the cost of repair or replacement of the damaged property, although, parents are not legally liable to pay compensation from their own resources for their child’s negligence. However, the parents are liable if it can be proven that they failed to take reasonable care to see that their children do not cause harm to the property of others.

Legally you can sue a child for negligence. But in practice this is an unrealistic option because the courts will take into account the age of the child when deciding whether her/his behaviour was negligent and there is little point in suing if the child has no means to pay compensation.

Children trespassing in garden

If you are affected by a neighbour’s children trespassing in your garden, you should try and resolve the problem in the first instance by speaking to the children’s parents or guardian. If a conciliatory approach does not work, and the children are taking things from the garden, causing damage or causing a serious nuisance, then the police may be called.

Damage to property

Someone’s property may be damaged by something which happened in a neighbour’s house, for example, the neighbour’s washing machine has flooded. If the person whose property has been damaged has house insurance, s/he should submit a claim to the insurance company. Where the insurance company decides that the damage is not covered by the policy or where the person has no insurance, s/he will need to pursue other options to recover the loss.

The neighbour could be approached and asked to pay for the damage. If s/he refuses to pay, s/he could be taken to court for negligence, if it can be proven that s/he did not take reasonable care to prevent the accident happening.

If you are thinking of taking court action you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Gardens

To establish who is responsible for keeping a shared garden in good order, you should check the title deeds of the property.

If you believe a neighbour’s garden is a health hazard, you should contact the local authority environmental health department.

If a neighbour is unable to look after her/his garden due to disability or old age, s/he may be able to get help from the local authority. The authority may run a garden aid scheme, providing a basic gardening service to people unable to look after their gardens.

If your property is damaged as a result of a neighbour’s lack of care, or failure to maintain her/his garden (for example, tree roots coming up in your drive) the neighbour could be liable for damages.

Hedges

If a neighbour’s hedge is tall and blocks out light you can ask the local authority for help if you can't resolve the problem with your neighbour. You will have to try to solve the problem before you apply as the local authority will expect you to try to do that.

If there are overhanging branches in your garden you can trim them back to the boundary wall or fence but you should not reduce the height of them without the permission of the owner.

Maintenance of shared facilities

There may be amenities which are shared between two or more properties, for example, common stairs, washing greens, the roof of a block of flats. Responsibility for maintaining them and rights to use them are usually outlined in the title deeds of the property.

When neighbours fail to reach agreement about cleaning and maintenance responsibilities, the local authority environmental health department can be brought in to settle the matter. The environmental health department can order households to clean the stairs and prosecute if necessary. If communal land, for example, a shared drying green, is kept in a state which poses a nuisance or danger, the environmental health department can serve a notice on the owner/s of the land, requiring them to take steps to maintain the land properly within a given time period.

Noise

As a first step, you should talk to the neighbour making the noise and ask her/him to reduce it. If the noise is not reduced and the neighbour is a tenant, it may be worth contacting the neighbour’s landlord. If the problem persists it is very helpful for you to keep a record/diary of the frequency and type of disturbance, which can be used as evidence in any future action.

If an informal approach to the neighbour is unsuccessful, the police may be willing to get involved. They may be able to ensure that noise is reduced simply by visiting the neighbour. The police also have specific powers to deal with excessive noise. They may be able to issue fines to people who have failed to stop the noise after being asked to do so or they may confiscate sound producing equipment.

Local authorities have a range of powers to deal with noise problems. The Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 has introduced a number of remedies for dealing with noise. Local authorities have a discretion to adopt these provisions. These include local authority officers having the power to issue warning notices where noise exceeds permitted levels. If the person responsible for the noise does not reduce it after being given a warning notice, s/he may be committing a criminal offence. Either the local authority officer or a police constable may issue the person with a fixed penalty notice. Steps may also be taken to seize and remove noise making equipment.

Even where these provisions from the Antisocial behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 are not appropriate or have not been adopted by the local authority, you should still contact your local authority. They have a range of other powers to deal with noise problems. An environmental health officer may be able to visit your home to assess the noise problem.

Noise in the street

Loudspeakers (except those used by the police, fire and ambulance services) must not be used in the street at night. Ice cream and grocery vans are allowed to use chimes or bells to advertise their services between noon and 7pm. You should make any complaints about noise from loudspeakers or chimes to the police or to the environmental health department of the local authority.

Personal problems

Neighbour spreading rumours

If you believe that a neighbour is spreading rumours about you, you should consider tolerating the rumours until they become less frequent or disappear altogether. You could also approach the neighbour directly and ask for an explanation and perhaps seek an apology. A mediator may also be able to help both sides to reach an agreement.

Where informal courses of action are unsuccessful, you could apply to court for an interdict to prevent the neighbour making any further defamatory statements. However, it may be difficult to prove what the neighbour has said or done and court action is likely to prove expensive.

Medical and psychological problems

If a neighbour has medical or psychological problems, this may affect the way s/he behaves towards you and others. If the neighbour has a regular visitor, such as another member of the family, a social worker, health visitor or doctor, you could approach her/him about the problems the neighbour is causing. The visitor may be able to ease the situation by speaking to the neighbour or by explaining the reasons for her/his behaviour.

Violence and assaults (including racist attacks and racial harassment)

Where a neighbour is physically violent or behaves in a dangerous manner towards you or other neighbours, the matter should be reported to the police. If a neighbour dispute results in a fight in which you are assaulted by a neighbour, you may want to take legal action against the neighbour.

In some cases, violence, assaults and harassment may be part of a pattern of antisocial behaviour.

See Antisocial behaviour.

Trees

The owner of a tree has a legal obligation to take due care that it does not damage a neighbour’s property, including a garden as well as a driveway with for example, overgrown roots or branches. You should ask your neighbour if s/he is prepared to cut the tree back. You are entitled to cut back roots and branches that overhang onto your property, but it may be useful to discuss the problem before you do any trimming back. When you have a problem of daylight being taken away from your property by a neighbour’s tree it may be more difficult to solve because you do not have the right to take any height off your neighbour’s tree. If you have lost daylight to your property, or views you previously enjoyed you should try to negotiate with your neighbour to reduce the height of the tree. If the neighbour refuses you could take legal action but discuss this with a solicitor because it could be very expensive. If your tree is causing a danger or obstacle in a public road or pathway, you can be forced to cut it back.

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Resolving neighbour disputes

Option

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Approach the neighbour

Many people find it useful to first speak to their neighbour. This gives the best chance of resolving the dispute and remaining on good terms. You could invite your neighbour for a coffee and a chat rather than discussing the issue on the doorstep.

If you think that one or both of you will get angry or upset during a meeting, it may be helpful to write a letter. It is useful to keep a copy of any letter sent.

Whichever way you chose to contact you neighbour make sure that you state your case simply and clearly. Avoid being emotional. Be polite even if you are frustrated, angry or upset. Stick to the facts.

This is simple but could result in a difficult confrontation. If there is a residents' or tenants' association where you live, you could seek their support.

If several people are affected, it may be helpful to speak or write jointly to the neighbour who is causing the problem. This may carry more weight than an individual complaint and make any conflict less personal.

Where initial approaches to the neighbour fail, a mediation scheme may be able to help.

Contact the local authorityYour local authority will have an antisocial behaviour strategy in place. The actions they can take include taking court action to stop the behaviour.You will need to contact your local authority Antisocial Behaviour Unit.
Contact a private landlord

Private landlords must take steps to address any difficulties. The action they can take can include taking steps to bring the tenancy to an end.

If you have requested that a private landlord take action to deal with antisocial behaviour in their property and they have not taken reasonable steps to deal with the problem, you can contact your local authority.

It may be difficult to find out who the landlord of the property is. Reporting may be time consuming, but all landlords should take reports of antisocial behaviour seriously. You can assist the landlord by recording the date and times of the behaviour and the effects it has on you, for example you may not be able to sleep because of excessive noise.
Contact a local authority landlord or registered social landlord

The action they can take can include taking steps to bring the tenancy to an end and applying to court for an antisocial behaviour order. They may also be able to rehouse you if you are a victim.

If you want to complain about a local authority or housing association tenant, you will normally be able to do this through a housing officer.

This may be time consuming, but all landlords should take reports of antisocial behaviour seriously. You can assist the landlord by recording the date and times of the behaviour and the effects it has on you. For example, you may not be able to sleep because of excessive noise.
Contact the policeThe police have a range of powers for addressing antisocial behaviour, including dispersing groups of people who persistently act in an antisocial way and issuing on the spot fines.

If the situation is not an emegergency, you could contact your local police station. If you dial 101 you will be automatically connected to the service centre covering your area. The police must take very seriously complaints about antisocial behaviour which is discriminating against you. If you think that your complaint has not been taken seriously enough or if you think the police are discriminating against you, you may want to make a complaint about the police.

A visit from an environmental health officer can often be a more effective way of resolving the dispute than a visit from the police as s/he may be regarded as less of an authority figure than a police officer.

Contact the Environmental Health Department

In cases where neighbours may be breaching public health or pollution laws, you can approach the local authority environmental health department.

The environmental health department may be particularly helpful in the case of noise complaints. If the officer thinks that a nuisance exists, a notice may be served on the neighbour, meaning that they will be required to stop the nuisance.

The Environmental Health Department can also carry out enforcement action to repair leaks and can obtain warrants for forced entry in certain circumstances to undertake necessary work.

The Environmental Health Department in your area may have limited working hours. This approach may help to minimise the potential for friction between neighbours and promote a common sense solution to a particular problem.

For example, an environmental health officer may persuade neighbours to go downstairs and listen to the noise and vibration caused by their washing machine in the flat below. They may then agree not to run the washing machine at night.

Contact the building control department

You can approach the local authority building control department in cases where one neighbour has refused to co-operate with a joint maintenance responsibility, such as a roof repair.

After an inspection, the building control department may serve a notice on all owners responsible for that part of the property, requiring them to put it in order within a certain time period.

Some local authorities will only carry out an inspection if the property is thought to pose a danger.
Contact the planning department

The local authority planning department has the power to investigate if there has been a breach of planning control.

The authority can issue an enforcement notice if the neighbour has carried out building work without permission or is using the land for an unauthorised purpose.

It could take some time for the planning department to complete their investigation.
Contact a local councillor/MSPYou may wish to contact a local councillor or Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP). It may also be possible to give details of the dispute to the councillors sitting on a committee relevant to the dispute, for example the planning committee in a case of breach of planning regulations.Your local MSP and councilors will normally hold a regular walk-in surgery. Details of surgeries can be found in local press. Councillors and MSPs may only be willing to assist you if the dispute is serious or longstanding.
Getting a solicitor’s letter

A letter from a solicitor may be necessary to explain the legal position in a dispute. This may be helpful in making a neighbour realise that you are serious about your complaint.

It may be particularly effective in making tenants realise that the next stage might be eviction by their landlord.

Note that it can be expensive to seek legal advice.
Taking court actionTaking court action can solve some disputes if all other methods fail.

This may be extremely expensive unless you are eligible for legal aid. If you are thinking of taking court action you may want to consult an experienced adviser, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau.

Taking court action is likely to damage relationships between neighbours.

Approach the neighbour

You should first make a complaint to the neighbour. If it seems that one or both parties will be unable to keep her/his temper during such a meeting, it may be advisable to write a letter to the neighbour.

Sometimes a neighbour may be made to see that her/his behaviour is anti-social or is causing a nuisance, if representations come from a group of neighbours.

If an initial approach to the neighbour has failed, there may be local mediators who are able to help. Mediators are independent people who will listen to both sides and help you to reach an agreement which you can live with. Mediation is usually free and confidential and can stop problems from getting out of hand.

The Scottish Mediation Network will be able to give information about mediators in your area. It can be contacted at:-

Scottish Mediation Network
18 York Place
Edinburgh
EH1 3EP
Tel: 0131 556 1221
Helpline: 0131 556 8118
E-mail: admin@scottishmediation.org.uk
Website: www.scottishmediation.org.uk

The Scottish Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (SACRO)

SACRO provides a wide range of services using mediation skills including direct services to clients who have not necessarily been offenders. The local services are linked to from www.sacro.org.uk. If you want to contact your local service by telephone or letter you can obtain the details from the national administration office at:-

SACRO
National Office
1 Broughton Market
Edinburgh
EH3 6NU
Tel: 0131 624 9200
E-mail: info@scms.sacro.org.uk

Apply for an anti-social behaviour order

A local authority or a registered social landlord can apply for an anti-social behaviour order when the anti-social behaviour relates to one of its tenants. When an anti-social neighbour is a private tenant or an owner occupier, a local authority can apply for an anti-social behaviour order if requested to do so.

See Antisocial behaviour.

Contact the landlord

If the offending neighbour is a tenant and refuses to co-operate when approached directly, it may be appropriate for you to contact the landlord.

Who is the landlord

If the property is owned by the local authority or a registered social landlord, you should approach the department responsible for housing within the agency. It may be prepared to contact the offending neighbour to help resolve the problem.

If informal negotiations fail, the agency has a range of approaches available to it for tackling the anti-social behaviour of its tenants and resolving neighbour disputes. It should have a policy which explains how it will deal with these cases. It will be able to enforce the terms of the tenancy agreement, which may prohibit certain types of behaviour. The local authority and registered social landlord may also apply to court for an order, for example an interdict or an anti-social behaviour order, to prohibit someone from continuing with the offending behaviour. As a last resort, it may be able to evict the offending tenant.

If the property is owned or run by a registered social landlord, it may have a housing officer who deals with disagreements between neighbours.

If you think discrimination is involved in a neighbour dispute, make sure your landlord knows this – see under heading Abusive neighbour disputes and discrimination.

A private landlord can take court action against a tenant who is being a nuisance to neighbours. If it is possible to find out who the landlord is, s/he might be prepared to talk to the tenant about the problem.

Call the police

You can call the police if it is possible that a criminal offence is being committed. Common offences in the case of neighbour disputes are breach of the peace, assault or harassment because of your race or sex. If you think racial or sexual harassment is involved in your neighbour dispute, make sure the police know this – see under heading Abusive neighbour disputes and discrimination.

The police have a range of powers to deal with situations where neighbour disputes involve antisocial behaviour.

See Antisocial behaviour.

Contact the environmental health department

In cases where neighbours may be breaching public health or pollution laws, you can approach the local authority environmental health department. See under heading Common neighbour problems.

An environmental health officer will usually contact the neighbour and may attempt to resolve the matter informally. If the officer thinks that a nuisance exists, a notice may be served on the neighbour, requiring abatement of the nuisance. This means s/he is required to stop, or deal with, the nuisance.

The Environmental Health Department can also carry out enforcement action to repair leaks and can obtain warrants for forced entry in certain circumstances to undertake necessary work.

Contact the building control department

You can approach the local authority building control department in cases where one neighbour has refused to co-operate with a joint maintenance responsibility, such as a roof repair.

After an inspection, the building control department may serve a notice on all owners responsible for that part of the property, requiring them to put it in order within a certain time period. Some local authorities will only carry out an inspection if the property is thought to pose a danger. The procedure followed will vary between authorities.

Contact the planning department

The local authority planning department has the power to investigate if there has been a breach of planning control. The authority can issue an enforcement notice if the neighbour has carried out building work without permission or is using the land for an unauthorised purpose.

Contact a local councillor/MSP

If a neighbour dispute is serious or longstanding you may wish to contact a local councillor or Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP). It may also be possible to give details of the dispute to the councillors sitting on a committee relevant to the dispute, for example the planning committee in a case of breach of planning regulations.

Consult a solicitor/take court action

Solicitor’s letter

A letter from a solicitor may be helpful in making a neighbour realise that you are serious about your complaint. It may be particularly effective in making tenants realise that the next stage might be eviction by their landlord. A letter from a solicitor may also be necessary to explain the legal position in a dispute, for example where neighbours cannot agree about the position of a boundary between their properties.

Taking court action

Although a particular dispute may be resolved successfully through the courts, the relationship between neighbours may be damaged. It is also an extremely expensive course of action to take unless you are eligible for legal aid.

If you are thinking of taking court action you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

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Abusive neighbour disputes and discrimination

Some behaviour by neighbours could amount to discrimination and may be against the law. If your neighbours are discriminating against you, you might be able to:-

  • take action against them for antisocial behaviour
  • if you're being harassed or victimised, report them to the police
  • if you're being harassed or victimised, take them to court
  • report them to your local authority. The local authority may be able to help even if your neighbours are not local authority tenants.

    More about discrimination in housing

For example, you may have a problem with your neighbours because they are behaving in a racist way. If you have been attacked because of your race, this is called a 'racially motivated attack' and it is a criminal offence. It is also a criminal offence to attack someone because of their religion. This is called a 'religiously motivated attack'.

Racially or religiously motivated attacks can include verbal abuse or threats and abusive slogans painted on a wall or building.

More about racist and religious hate crime

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Useful booklet

There is a booklet available called Neighbour problems that can be downloaded and printed from the Citizens Advice Scotland website at www.cas.org.uk.

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Citizens Advice

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