I have a “testy” relationship with my neighbour. I want to carry out some repairs on shared amenities but fear this may not be well-received. What are my rights?
It is not possible to provide a standard set of guidelines for dealing with every neighbour problem. This is because the problems are so varied and the solution to any particular dispute will depend on the individual circumstances of the case.
Access to a neighbour’s land for repairs
If you want to carry out repairs to property or land you may need to have access to your neighbouring property or land in order to carry out these repairs.
There may be a right of entry specifically for the purposes of inspection or repair in the property’s legal documents. If there is no such right, or no agreement can be reached, the law allows you as the person wishing to carry out repairs to apply to the county court for an access order allowing you to enter your neighbour’s land to carry out the repairs. There is a fee for the application.
If you wish to apply for an access order you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a solicitor or a Citizens Advice.
Amenities which are shared
Who is responsible
There may be amenities shared between two or more properties, for example, drains and pipes, shared drives or the roof of a block of flats. Responsibility for maintaining them and rights to use them, for example, putting up an aerial on a shared chimney, are usually outlined in the property’s legal documents.
The legal documents may give you as a property owner rights over your neighbour’s property. Sometimes they are not included in the legal documents but have arisen out of long, continuous and unchallenged use (usually 20 years). A right to use, for example, a pipe through a neighbour’s property implies a right to go on that neighbour’s property to undertake repairs, although any damage incurred to that property must be made good. If access is refused, an application can be made to a county court for an access order – see above.
Where there is a shared amenity which is in need of repair the first step is to find out who is responsible for repairs. However, the legal documents may not always provide clear evidence and, in this case, it is probably best to settle in advance that the costs will be shared between owners.
The next stage will probably be to get a surveyor or architect to inspect and report on the part of the property requiring repairs. Estimates will have to be sought and finally a contract made with builders. It is essential that at each stage when a cost is incurred the household initiating the repairs has the consent of the other parties responsible.
If some or all of the property involved is rented, the landlord may be liable for repairs.
How to deal with a neighbour dispute
Approach the neighbour
A complaint should first be made to the neighbour. 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.
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 planning department
The local planning department has the power to investigate if there has been a breach of planning control. The authority can issue an enforcement notice if the neighbour has carried out building work without permission or is using the land for an unauthorised purpose.
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 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.