How to resolve disputes with your neighbours

Private Property South Africa

Many of us will have disagreements with the neighbours at some stage. Here’s how to resolve the issue with and without getting the cops involved.

You’re deep in the middle of a dream where your celebrity crush is about to hand you a cheque for $100 million. As the tips of your fingers are about to connect with the fantasy cheque, the shrill sound of a power tool drills into your subconscious and hurtles you back into reality. It’s your neighbour doing yet another DIY project at 2am, and you cannot bare it a moment longer. But, what is there to be done about it?

Your initial response may be to call the cops, but this is not always the best way to manage these sorts of disruptions. “Resolving neighbour disputes can be a lengthy and time-consuming process if you have to take it up with authorities, so you want to try your best to resolve it without getting others involved if possible,” advises Adrian Goslett, Regional Director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa.

Step 1: Talk it out

According to his advice, the first step in any neighbour dispute is to take a human approach to the situation by trying to resolve the issue neighbour-to-neighbour. In many cases, the issue can be easily resolved if both neighbours just have an honest and respectful conversation about the issue – the operative word here being ‘respectful’.

Keep your cool

“It is never a good idea to confront a neighbour when you are a loose cannon waiting to explode. If you are unable to cool down during the heat of the moment, then wait until the next day when you are more in control of your temper and are able to have a reasonable conversation with your neighbour. So many disputes continue for longer than necessary simply because a neighbour has allowed their frustration to seep into the interaction which only further fuelled the offending neighbour to continue his bad behaviour out of spite,” Goslett explains. Offer solutions, not insults

“In your best effort not to inadvertently cause your neighbour to want to continue being a nuisance, you should try to approach the matter without using any accusatory terms. Blaming them for causing you discomfort is the wrong way to go about this. Try to phrase it in such a way that offers a solution to the problem, as well as an explanation as to how their behaviour disrupts your life without calling them names or making it their fault. The more understanding and reasonable you seem, the more likely your neighbour will be to helping you resolve the issue.”

Tackle it face-to-face

As a final piece of advice, Goslett suggests that homeowners and tenants attempt to address the issue directly in a casual setting first before resorting to any other measures. “Dropping a written note into their mailbox or under their door can often seem more confrontational than a casual conversation in the front garden. If they refuse to talk it out with you, then having a written note can help prove that you tried to resolve the situation as best you could before you dragged the authorities into it. However, this should never be your first step towards resolving the issue.”

Authorities are a last resort

“As unpleasant as it may be, dealing with these situations directly is always the best approach. Unfortunately, no matter how diplomatic you might have been, some neighbours can choose not to respond to your reasonable requests. In these cases, it is best to take it up with your local police station first, and then bring it to court if the problem persists,” Goslett explains.

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

Step 2: Go the legal route

If trying to resolve the issue neighbour to neighbour fails, you may be forced to turn to the authorities for help. “The reassuring thing is that, for the most part, the law tends to be on the side of the reasonable neighbour who just wants to live in peace,” says Goslett. . “Issues that can be dealt with at a local police station include boundary wall offenses and noise complaints. In many cases, just one warning call or notice from a local police station is enough to set a neighbour straight. But, if they choose to ignore the warning, then you are allowed to request that your local authority issue them with a fine,” he elaborates.

Below are some of the legal grounds on which you may approach authorities to assist with neighbour disputes:

Boundary Issues

Legally, the boundary wall belongs to both neighbours. However, whatever falls to either side of it belongs to the neighbour who owns that property. If your neighbour builds a structure or plants a tree that encroaches onto your property, you are allowed to lay a formal complaint against him/her. This does not, however, include things like shadows or buildings that block your view.

Noise Complaints

These fall under two categories: ‘Disturbing Noise' and 'Noise Nuisance'. The former refers to objectively loud noises. Things like late-night parties usually fall under this classification. The latter refers to subjective noises that disrupt the ongoing peace of an individual. Things like the non-stop barking of a neighbour’s dog is a perfect example of things that fall under this category. Both of these categories are illegal behaviours and perpetrators can be fined or even arrested for continuing with these actions at any point during the day.

“As an absolute last resort, you may bring the issue to your nearest court where you can apply for an interdict to prevent your neighbour from continuing the offending behaviour. You may also sue your neighbour for damages that may have resulted from their offense. In these cases, however, you will be required to provide evidence that the matter is something that any reasonable person would find intolerable to live with and that is having a seriously negative effect on the enjoyment of their property. But, even with the legal recourse you are allowed to take, we would still recommend trying to resolve the issue face to face. Remember, you’re going to be living side by side for some time still,” Goslett concludes.

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