Common neighbour disputes
A common complaint raised by people is to do with noise. Noise complaints can vary from loud music to excessive or loud barking from a dog. Some noises are unavoidable, however, they can become unbearable and an ongoing problem. It's best to informally speak to your neighbour asking them to reduce the noise or control it. If your neighbour is a tenant, you could also contact their landlord to deal with the situation.
If the excessive noise persists it may be a good idea to keep a written record of the disturbances which will give you evidence in the future. You can also make a complaint to the local authorities who have extensive powers and are required to investigate any problem relating to noise nuisances. They will appoint an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) to investigate the noise and objectively give an expert opinion on it. If they decide the noise is a statutory nuisance (ie the noise unreasonably and substantially interferes with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises or injure health or be likely to injure health) they can make an order that the owner ceases the noise or controls it. If the offending neighbour doesn't obey the order there can be heavy fines and penalties.
In Scotland, the local councils have several powers to address noise problems, including issuing ‘noise abatement notices’ for excessive noise. If the noise persists, this could be a criminal offence and the offending neighbour may be given a fine, also known as a ‘fixed penalty notice’. Councils also have the power to remove the source of the noise from the property.
Trees and hedges
Overhanging trees are another common reason for neighbour disputes. If a neighbour's tree overhangs into a neighbouring property, the tree owner can be asked to trim back the tree. If this is not done then the person complaining of the overhanging tree has the right to trim back the tree to the boundary line. However, if you live in a conservation area or the trees are protected by a tree preservation order you'll need to ask your local council's permission to trim or cut the trees. You should informally talk to your neighbour to let them know of your intentions to trim back the tree branches. The tree branches and foliage should also be returned to your neighbour or disposed of properly with their consent.
Tall hedges have become increasingly prevalent due to people wanting more privacy from their neighbours. However, hedges can't be more than 2 metres tall or affect your enjoyment of your home or garden (ie because it's blocking the light). You can ask your local council for a complaint form but you might have to pay a fee for the council to consider your complaint.
In Scotland, you don’t have a right to take any height off your neighbour’s tree or hedge, even if it’s blocking daylight. Initially, try and negotiate with your neighbour and resolve the issue; if the problem persists, ask the local authority to help. The council will visit your home to assess the hedge and may issue a ‘high hedge notice’ to your neighbour requiring them to trim it.
Boundaries, fences and driveways
When disputes arise between neighbours about the boundaries between their properties, it's necessary to find out who owns the disputed land. You should check the property title deeds to see who owns the land and where the boundary is situated for the property. However, boundary lines aren't always clearly defined on property deeds and it may be necessary to get an expert surveyor. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has free advice on boundary disputes.
Generally, there isn't a duty to erect and maintain any type of fence or railing around your property. The only exceptions are when there is a requirement in the title documents or lease or the property is next to a street or road and may cause danger. In order to find out who has an obligation to repair a fence or rail, you'll need to look at the property documents. This will set out who owns the fence or rail and whether they have to maintain or repair it. A person is only required to fix a fence or rail if it expressly says so in the title deeds. The only obligation on the fence owner is that it must be safe.
If there is a shared driveway then each person has a right of access and neither neighbour can block access to it. There are no automatic rights over parking spaces on a public road.
Sometimes you'll share some amenities with your neighbours. These can include shared drains and pipes, shared gardens or even a communal rooftop on a block of flats. Disputes usually arise over who has the responsibility of maintaining or keeping the shared amenities clean. Legal documents such as the lease or title deeds will normally state who is responsible for maintaining or repairing the shared amenities. However, as shared amenities aren't always clear, it may be best to share the costs of any repairs or cleaning for any shared amenities if each party intends to use them. The simple solution should be to always informally talk to your neighbour to resolve these disputes.
In Scotland, if neighbours can’t agree on cleaning and maintenance responsibilities the local authority’s environmental health department can help resolve the dispute. The authority has the power to order households to clean shared stairways and take legal action if residents don’t comply.
You might have a shared wall if your property is adjoining another property. This is known as a party wall. If you or your neighbour plans to carry out work that will affect a party wall between the two properties then there must be a party wall notice served on all the people affected. If you have a good relationship with your neighbour it may be possible to minimise costs by negotiating a Party wall agreement instead of going through the usual party wall notice procedure. For further information, read Party wall matters.
In Scotland, the owners of a shared wall have equal rights to carry out work on the structure. You should talk to your neighbour before making any changes to the shared wall in order to avoid disputes. For further information, read Party wall matters in Scotland.
Abusive, anti-social or violent neighbours
Some neighbours may be violent or abusive. Instances of anti-social behaviour could be anything from harassment, verbal abuse, intimidation and bullying to animal nuisance (eg dog fouling) and vandalism. If you're experiencing any of these issues, you should establish who is responsible for the behaviour and try to mediate, if it's a relatively minor anti-social issue. You should call the police if your neighbour is showing or displaying any signs of violence or aggression. This is especially important if your neighbours are discriminating against you based on ethnicity, religion, sexuality, disability, gender or any showing any other form of discrimination.
If you are based in Scotland, you may wish to ask your local authority for help dealing with a neighbour’s antisocial behaviour. The council has a number of powers to deal with these situations, including applying to a court for an order to stop the behaviour, take action itself to stop the behaviour, evict the person responsible (if they are a local authority tenant), provide you with alternative accommodation and report the matter to the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service to consider whether prosecution is appropriate.
A general principle is that you own the airspace above your land. As a result, if your gutters overhang your neighbour's land then you may be trespassing, even if your neighbour cannot reach them or they don’t interfere with your neighbour's day to day use of the land.
However, where there is an overhang, the following grounds can legitimise what would otherwise be a trespass:
the deeds to the house may specifically provide a right for them to be there.
if the overhanging gutters have been in place for over 20 years, then the owner may have acquired a prescriptive right for them to be there. In some circumstances, use of a neighbour’s land can be acquired by right through long usage.
if they have been in place for at least 12 years, then it is possible to acquire ownership of the airspace that they occupy. The rules on adverse possession under the Land Registration Act 2002 make this less likely unless the gutters were in place at least as far back as 1991.
if the projections have been in place for some time, or are part of a development, then it is arguable that the land bought included the overhang into the neighbouring airspace. This may give rise to a boundary that is different above the ground than on the boundary line, potentially allowing gutters to remain.
A recent Supreme Court case, Fearn and others v Board of Trustees of the Tate Gallery, established that visual intrusion can constitute common law nuisance. This means that, if people’s use of the view from one property interferes with a neighbour’s quiet enjoyment of their property, this neighbour may have a valid legal claim against the person whose view is interfering. This interference, however, would need to be significant and more intrusive than just a structure that can see into another house. For example, in the Fearn case, a viewing platform of the Tate Modern gallery was found to be a nuisance largely because it gave the gallery’s many visitors a clear view into neighbouring apartments.
How to resolve neighbour disputes
In the first instance, you should try and resolve any neighbour disputes informally by talking to them. This is the easiest way to resolve any dispute. If it appears that one or both parties won't be able to keep calm then it may be best to write to them.
If the initial informal discussion doesn't appear to work then you may consider mediation. A mediation service will enable a third party, usually a trained impartial mediator, to facilitate any discussions and hear both sides of the story. They can make a recommendation as to what should be done. There can be a fee for mediation but it will cost considerably less than going to court or seeking legal advice. You can find a mediator in your area by using the Ministry of Justice website. If you’re in Scotland, you can find a mediator on the Scottish Mediation website. For further information, read Mediation.
If your neighbour is a tenant, it may be appropriate to contact their landlord. Who the landlord is, depends on who owns the property. If the property is owned by the local authority, then the local authority's housing department should be the point of contact. A private landlord can apply for repossession of the property on the basis that the tenant has been a nuisance to neighbours or if discrimination is involved.
If all else fails it may be appropriate to commence court proceedings. However taking court action is very expensive and if you take your neighbour to court, it will ultimately damage your relationship with them. Ask a lawyer for help with your situation.
Resolving boundary disputes
If you are trying to determine who owns an area of land or where a legal property boundary is, then you should contact HM Land Registry. HM Land Registry will show the extent of the land in a registered title by a red line on the title plan. Where a boundary of the land is not defined by a physical feature on the Ordnance Survey map, HM Land Registry indicates it on the title plan by a dotted line.
If you've already ordered Official copies of the properties to determine the legal boundaries and it's not clarified who owns the land, then you need to record the boundaries more accurately.
You can do this in two ways:
making a boundary agreement with your neighbour
applying for a determined boundary
You can avoid having to create a Boundary agreement by having an informal discussion with your neighbour. However, if you cannot agree on who should own the piece of land or agree to terms that accommodate both parties then you can create a Boundary agreement. A Boundary agreement records the boundary between two properties and who's responsible for maintaining the land.
Apply for a determined boundary
You can apply to have the exact boundary between your property and your neighbour's recorded. This is known as applying for a 'determined boundary'. You can only do this if your property is registered.
You'll need to send:
a plan showing the determined boundary - ask a chartered land surveyor to make this
evidence that supports your application
a completed exact line of boundary (DB) form