7 things that cause neighbourly disputes, and how to avoid them

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Having a good relationship with your neighbours is important if you want a harmonious home life. Here’s how you can be a better neighbour.

The proverb ‘good fences make good neighbours’ dates back centuries and has taken various forms including Benjamin Franklin’s version, ‘love your neighbour, yet don't pull down your hedge’. Neighbourly love appears to have been important to this famous American because he also coined the phrase ‘a quarrelsome man has no good neighbours’.

Anyone who has had the misfortune of falling out with a neighbour can probably relate to this and while it's not always possible to keep on your neighbour’s good side (some people are going to be unreasonable regardless of what you do or don't do) there are ways to eliminate niggles before they become major issues.

So what is likely to cause you problems with your neighbours? There are quite a few, but we’ve narrowed it down a bit and highlighted the ones guaranteed to cause ructions and sour neighbourly relations.

  1. Don't alter your property in such a way that it changes the flow of water into your neighbour’s garden. For example, just because you live on a mountainside doesn't mean that you can simply erect a retaining wall in an effort to give yourself a bit more lawn if such a structure is going to impact on how the water runs off your property and potentially adversely affects those living below you.

  2. Smells: legally speaking you can't interfere with your neighbour’s right to clean air. In other words, burning refuse on a regular basis could cause unhappiness for those who live around you. However, it isn't just smoke that could cause issues - gutting fish next to a neighbour’s wall or piling dog faeces up near the boundary line is also bound to cause a fight.

  3. You can’t interfere with the light that your neighbour enjoys. He has every right to chop down branches of trees on your property which overhang and significantly affect the amount of light falling on to his property.

  4. Property owners should also consider how they fertilise their gardens. Remember, if chemical fertilisers run off into a neighbour’s gardens when it rains, this could be extremely distressing to an organic gardener who is totally against using any type of chemical in their garden.

  5. Attracting large numbers of wild animals can also start arguments. Feeding monkeys can cause major problems for your neighbours, particularly during the winter months when natural food becomes scarcer and hungry troops of monkeys start visiting more and more regularly.

  6. While lack of maintenance may not always impact on a neighbour’s property, there are things that could directly affect his enjoyment of life. Although you may not choose to keep bee hives on your property this doesn't mean that they and other stinging insects such as wasps won't move in. Swarms of stinging insects are a hazard and should be eradicated or relocated before they become a major problem.

  7. Noise is probably the most common complaint and no, we aren't just talking about people playing their music too loudly. Mowing your lawn before sunrise on a Sunday morning or practising your woodworking skills late on a Saturday night is going to eventually get on your neighbour’s nerves. Perhaps the best way to look at noise is to ask yourself if you'd be happy if your neighbours made the same amount of noise at the same time of the day, week in and week out. If the answer is no, then it may be time to rethink the way you do things.

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