What is a neighbourhood dispute?
A neighbourhood dispute is any kind of disagreement or problem, usually long-running, between two or more neighbours. We often have disagreements with our neighbours about many things; perhaps they play their music too loud, or do so late at night. Perhaps they have a tree which is invading your garden space. Most of the time, we are able to resolve these disputes without any major issues. This guide will provide advice on how to deal with a neighbourhood dispute.
I have an issue with a neighbour. What do I do?
Before making a complaint to the authorities, try to resolve the issue by talking to your neighbour. If you’re worried about confronting them, write them a letter explaining the problem clearly. If the issue affects others (such as a noise disturbance), see if you can involve them as well. It can sometimes be easier to resolve issues if the complaint comes from a number of people instead of just one.
If your neighbour is a tenant, you can complain to their landlord. Within North Lincolnshire, this is likely to be Ongo Homes, a housing association, or a private individual. If you cannot resolve the issue by talking to your neighbour, or their landlord, you can get help from a mediation service. Mediation is where an impartial person acts as a referee in a dispute. There can be a fee for this service, but it will be far cheaper than hiring a solicitor and taking legal action. You can search for a mediator here.
Involving the council
You can involve the council if the neighbourhood dispute involves activity that is damaging to health, or a nuisance, such as a noise disturbance, or a breach of the peace. The council has a duty to investigate any nuisance reported to us. Such issues are known as “statutory nuisances”, and can include:
- Noise (such as loud music and barking dogs)
- Artificial light (not street lamps)
- Smoke, fumes, or gases (such as burning waste)
- A build-up of rubbish that could harm health (such as rotting food or animal waste)
- Dust, steam, smell, or insects from business premises (such as rats)
If the council decides someone is committing a statutory nuisance, we can issue an abatement order – a demand that they must stop whatever is causing the nuisance, else face legal action.
If someone breaks an abatement order, they can be fined up to £5,000, or £20,000 if it is from a factory or business.
Boundary disputes - hedges and trees
You have to try to settle a boundary dispute by talking to your neighbour before the council can step in. Before the council can intervene, a hedge must be all of these:
- 2 or more, mostly evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs
- Over 2 metres (6’6’’) tall
- Affecting your enjoyment of your home or garden because it’s too tall
You can trim branches, roots, or hedges that cross into your property from a neighbour’s property or a public space; however, you can only trim up to the property boundary. If you were to do more, your neighbour could take you to court for damaging their property.
If you live in a conservation area, or the trees in a hedge are protected by a “tree preservation order”, you may need the council’s permission to trim them. If you have tress or hedges on your property that are causing an obstruction in the road, the Highways Authority can ask you to trim them. If you refuse, they can go onto your property without your consent, and do the work themselves. They may also charge you for this.
If you and your neighbour have a shared boundary, you must give them advance notice if you are going to do work on the boundary. What is the exact boundary between two properties can be difficult to resolve, so you should get legal advice before proceeding.
For more advice and information, you can contact HM Land Registry.
Involving the Police
You should contact the police if your neighbour is:
- Violent, abusive, harassing, or threatening (such as attacking you, or threatening to do so)
- Harassing you sexually, or because of your sexuality, religion, or ethnic background (such as using racial slurs)
- Is breaching the peace (such as disorderly in the street, or making a lot of noise)
- Is breaking the law in any other way, or if you suspect that they are (such as dealing in drugs)
Taking legal action
If all other avenues have failed for you, you can take legal action against a neighbour.
This should only be a last resort, as taking someone to court can be a lengthy and expensive thing to do. There may be court fees involved, and you may have to pay a solicitor. You can get free legal advice from an advice centre, such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. You can also find a lawyer who specialises in neighbour disputes through The Law Society.