Love thy neighbor may be a theory we’ve all grown up with, but sometimes when spaces are small, boundaries are shared and neighbours are diverse, the ins and outs become rather a challenge. And sometimes impossible.
Case in point occurred just last weekend, when our neighbours bought in a sheep that was still bleating. Suddenly, our side of the fence, things became a little bleak. Especially as we too were sitting, with friends, around a braai, lamb chops in hand. The wall between us was thin, well thin enough, for us to realize that if we sat there much longer we’d be put off not just our chops, but probably the next few meals. It’s not that we are against eating meat; it’s just that in-situ slaughter isn’t something we’ve grown up with. We did mumble various things about live and let live, but as it became increasingly evident that the sheep wasn’t going to enjoy that same pleasure for very much longer, we realized it was time to act. Fight or flight.
Safely around the salad bar in a restaurant well out of earshot, we mulled, with our guests, over just what the options were. As property owners we’re entitled to the free use and enjoyment of our property, provided that in doing so, we don’t infringe on our neighbour’s rights to the free use and enjoyment of their property. And while we value and respect their rights, we’d just had to leave in a hurry. In these times where knowing your neighbours and their routines is a valuable tool in crime management, did we want to create a war? Certainly not. So in the case of loud music, barking dogs, or inconsiderate parking we decided that it was indeed best to live and let live and only if that was impossible, should we follow that up with firstly a polite chat, secondly a polite letter, with litigation being the last resort.
We agreed too that, like it or not, the sheep fell into this category, as did issues such as boundaries, walls, overhanging vegetation and trees. For those however who wanted to get a little more technical, there are existing laws governing many of these issues.
Draw the line
Where there is a dispute over a boundary, the Deeds Office generally has the plans, but if agreement is still impossible to reach, a registered land surveyor can be asked to re-determine the boundary line.
Where there is no proof of the actual line of a boundary, it is generally presumed to exactly between two properties, meaning that neither owner may remove, raise, lower or tamper with the boundary wall without the consent of the other and the costs of replacing or repairing a shared boundary wall are expected to be shared.
When it comes to vegetation, a neighbour may cut down a branch that is hanging onto his property, and request that the neighbour covers the reasonable cost of a root being removed, but when neighbour’s tree that obstructs your view or blocks your light, they don’t by law have to act on it.
However, when views are blocked by new building plans, neighbours do have some rights, and even when plans have been approved they can still be challenged. In fact for those lamenting cases of over-coverage, unsightly buildings, inappropriate use of buildings, and lost views, even after the building has been erected, plans can still be challenged and demolition ordered.
Feeling a little better after discussing the bigger picture, we ordered another calming tot, and tried not to think of the sheep.