Advice Column: Anti-Social Behaviour
I dread summertime. Any time it is warm one of my neighbours has a barbecue, drinks a lot of alcohol and plays music very loudly. These often end up with shouting matches with other members of their family. I have politely asked them if they could keep the noise and swearing down as I have small children who are in bed but they then racially abuse me. What are my legal rights?
Our advice is, as a first step, that you should talk to your neighbour making the noise and ask them to reduce the noise.
If it seems that one or both parties will be unable to keep their temper during such a meeting, it may be advisable to write.
If the noise is not reduced and your neighbour is a tenant, it may be worth contacting your neighbour’s landlord. If the problem persists it is useful to keep a record/diary of the disturbances which can be used as evidence in any future action.
Sometimes a neighbour may be made to see that their behaviour is anti-social if representations come from a group of neighbours.
If an initial approach to the neighbour has failed, there may be local mediators who are able to help.
For more information on mediation, visit the Civil Mediation Council website at www.civilmediation.org.uk. To find a mediator in your area who may be able to help, visit the Ministry of Justice website at www.civilmediation.justice.gov.uk.
Contact the landlord
If the offending neighbour is a tenant and refuses to co-operate when approached directly, it may be appropriate to contact the landlord.
Who is the landlord
If the property is owned by the local authority, the authority’s housing department should be approached. It may be prepared to contact the offending neighbour to help resolve the problem.
If the property is owned or run by a housing association, it may have a housing officer who deals with disagreements between tenants.
If you think discrimination is involved in a neighbour dispute, make sure your landlord knows this.
A private landlord can apply for possession on the grounds that a tenant has been a nuisance to neighbours or committed an offence such as racially motivated attacks. If it is possible to find out who the landlord is, they might be prepared to talk to the tenant about the problem. If you think discrimination is involved, make sure your landlord knows this.
Call the police
The police can be called if it is possible that a criminal offence is being committed. Common offences in the case of neighbour disputes are breach of the peace, assault or harassment because of your race or sex. If you think racial or sexual harassment is involved in your neighbour dispute, make sure the police know this.
Contact the environmental health department
In cases where neighbours may be breaching public health or pollution laws, the local authority environmental health department can be approached.
An environmental health officer will usually contact the neighbour and attempt to resolve the matter informally. If this fails, a notice may be served on the neighbour, requiring the abatement of the nuisance. This means they are required to stop, or deal with, the nuisance.
Local authorities have extensive powers to deal with noise nuisances. You can ask the Environmental Health Officer (EHO) to investigate the noise. They are able to measure the level of noise and to give an expert opinion on how it rates as a noise nuisance. Local authorities have powers to seize noise-making equipment.
If the EHO considers there is a noise nuisance and has been unable to resolve the matter by discussion, the authority can then serve a notice on the person causing the noise, or on the owner or occupier of the property. If the person causing the noise does not comply with the notice, the local authority can prosecute them. The local authority can also apply for an injunction.
If you are unhappy about the service you have received from the local authority or from your landlord, you may want to contact an Ombudsman for help.
Consult a solicitor/take court action
A letter from a solicitor may be helpful in making a neighbour realise that you are serious about your complaint. It may be particularly effective in making tenants realise that the next stage might be eviction by their landlord. It may also be necessary when, for example, there is genuine disagreement as to who is responsible.
Taking court action
Although a particular dispute may be resolved successfully through the courts, the relationship between neighbours may be damaged. It is also an extremely expensive course of action to take unless the complainant is eligible for legal aid.
If you are thinking of taking court action you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Local Citizens Advice.
If you really can’t get on with your neighbour, you may think that your only course of action is to move. If you own your home and you move because of neighbour problems, you must not mislead prospective buyers about the problems that you’ve had. A seller has to fill out a form containing standard questions when selling their home. These questions include one about disputes. A buyer can sue a seller who doesn’t disclose a dispute, such as a neighbour dispute.
Abusive neighbour disputes and discrimination
Some behaviour by neighbours could amount to discrimination and may be against the law.
For example, you may have a problem with your neighbours because they are behaving in a racist way. If you have been attacked because of your race, this is called a ‘racially motivated attack’. The person who attacked you may have committed a criminal offence. It is also a criminal offence to attack someone because of their religion. This is called a ‘religiously motivated attack’.
Racially or religiously motivated attacks can include verbal abuse or threats and abusive slogans painted on a wall or building.
If your neighbours are discriminating against you, you might be able to:
- take action against them for antisocial behaviour
- if you’re being harassed or victimised, report them to the police
- if you’re being harassed or victimised, take them to court
- report them to your local authority. The local authority may be able to help even if your neighbours are not local authority tenants.
If your neighbours are discriminating against you in any way, you should get help from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Local Citizens Advice. They will be able to advise you about the best course of action to take in your circumstances.