The Neighbour from Hell

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Do yourselves a favour and ask about the neighbours before you commit to buying that property. It may sound a little silly, but in actual fact a noisy, nosy, disruptive neighbour can ruin anyone’s life and finding out what sort of people you are moving next to can prove to be one of the most important aspects of the deal.

A bad or unreasonable neighbour can make life an absolute misery and as the court reports show, it can be a costly exercise trying to resolve even the pettiest of issues. Therein lies the problem. What drives one person around the bend will not necessarily concern another in the slightest and what seems to be a minor problem for one will seem like a life and death situation to another.

The problem is certainly not exclusive to South Africa and seems to occur when people are forced to live in close proximity to one another. In the UK, for example, where many of the properties are semi-detached there is a group dedicated to helping those with problematic neighbours. The Neighbours From Hell in Britain (NFHiB) run a web page that highlights people’s rights and offers advice on how best to deal with the situation.

While neighbourly problems do not seem to be as bad in this country as they are in the UK, perhaps because we live in far less cramped conditions, a recent case that ended in tragedy indicates just how bad things can get when neighbours don’t see eye to eye or when one party becomes totally unreasonable. The residents in a golfing estate in Gauteng had been waging a long-standing battle with one of its inhabitants. The matter which ended in a courtroom battle included incidents where the problematic neighbour phoned at unreasonable hours, hammered nails into residents’ cars and ran around naked. Various homeowners on the estate had laid some 30 charges against the woman and had even tried to convince the court to have her committed to a mental institution for observation. The saga eventually ended when the neighbour concerned committed suicide.

Although this case is particularly dramatic, it certainly highlights what can happen when you live next door to disruptive or abusive people. The bad news is where you live or how much you paid for a property doesn’t seem to offer much protection and neighbours from hell can feature in all sectors of society.

Totally sane and rational people can be driven almost to the brink of madness by the actions of their neighbours and will often go to great lengths to stop what they deem to be anti-social behaviour. Unfortunately, they will often resort to tit-for-tat behaviour, which doesn’t help the situation at all. Communication is very often the key to resolving issues before they get out of hand, although asking your neighbour to get his dog to stop barking by parking your car in front of his gate and blowing the hooter madly at 3:00am may not be the way to go.

Yapping dogs, unruly children and noise appear to be the most common problems associated with unruly neighbours in the freehold property sector while parking disputes and the rights of owners with regard to common property seem to be the trigger for disputes in sectional title schemes. Theoretically one would think that these types of issues could easily be resolved, however, they often escalate into open warfare, causing unhappiness all round.

In a perfect world adopting a ‘live and let live’ approach could be the easiest way to stop matters getting out of hand, however, if the situation is beginning to affect a homeowner’s life then a friendly chat may well stop the irritating behaviour in its tracks. If talking doesn’t have the desired affect the only real recourse is to turn to the courts but the law is a very blunt instrument with which to regulate neighbourly relations. Legal proceedings are also expensive and seldom result in anything but hard feelings on both sides. It is therefore important to distinguish between antisocial and unlawful behaviour: the former is not actionable and could result in wasted legal costs. Don’t expect the police to stop your neighbour from mowing the lawn on a Sunday morning. While this may irritate you, it is not illegal.

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