This information applies to Scotland only
What is in this information
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.
This information is divided into two parts:-
Common neighbour disputes - which describes some common disputes and indicates which of the alternative courses of action would be most suitable in each case.
Resolving neighbour disputes - which outlines the range of actions that may need to be taken to resolve a neighbour dispute.
Discrimination and hate crime
If your relationship with your neighbour has broken down and you feel there are serious issues because you are being harassed by your neighbour because of discrimination and hate crime you may want to get the police involved. Please check first what is meant by hate crime and what can be done about it.
Common neighbour problems
Establishing the boundaries and ownership
If a dispute arises between neighbours about the boundary between their property it will be necessary to establish exactly where the boundary lies. You may need to check the title deeds of the properties to establish the position of boundaries.
If you think that the boundaries are not defined in the title deeds then you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.
Duty to erect a barrier
The title deeds of a property may specify that the owner must erect a fence, wall or other barrier and may even stipulate the type of barrier to be erected. The title deeds can also contain restrictions on putting up a barrier, for example on open plan housing estates. If the deeds make no reference to fences or barriers then, generally, the property owner is under no obligation to erect one.
Who can use or repair a barrier
In order to establish who can use or repair a barrier, you first need to establish who owns it. The ownership of the barrier may be stated in the title deeds of the property, as may the responsibility for repairs and maintenance. If the deeds do not refer to the rights to use and repair a barrier, then you should seek legal advice.
If the barrier belongs to one owner, s/he can use it as s/he wishes, without the neighbour’s consent, providing it is safe. The neighbour has no rights over the barrier. For example, s/he could not use it to support trailing plants without the owner’s permission. If the fence is jointly owned, each neighbour can use it for support, provided neither makes it unsafe.
A property owner is not obliged to repair her/his barrier unless the title deeds says so. However, if the barrier injures a person or damages her/his property, s/he may be liable for damages. It is therefore in the owner’s interests to keep the barrier in a reasonable state of repair.
If you have concerns about how CCTV is being used by a neighbour or your landlord, there is further information on the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) website at www.ico.org.uk.
Noisy children in themselves are not a ‘nuisance’. If you are disturbed by a neighbour’s children, for example, if you are a shift worker who wants to sleep during the day, the only real solution is a conciliatory approach to the neighbour. A local mediation scheme may be able to help neighbours to come to an agreement that suits both parties. (See under heading Resolving neighbour disputes).
Damage caused by children
If a neighbour’s child causes damage to your property, a conciliatory approach to settle the matter is probably the best solution. You could approach the child’s parents or guardian and ask them to pay the cost of repair or replacement of the damaged property, although, parents are not legally liable to pay compensation from their own resources for their child’s negligence. However, the parents are liable if it can be proven that they failed to take reasonable care to see that their children do not cause harm to the property of others.
Legally you can sue a child for negligence. But in practice this is an unrealistic option because the courts will take into account the age of the child when deciding whether her/his behaviour was negligent and there is little point in suing if the child has no means to pay compensation.
Children trespassing in garden
If you are affected by a neighbour’s children trespassing in your garden, you should try and resolve the problem in the first instance by speaking to the children’s parents or guardian. If a conciliatory approach does not work, and the children are taking things from the garden, causing damage or causing a serious nuisance, then the police may be called.
Damage to property
Someone’s property may be damaged by something which happened in a neighbour’s house, for example, the neighbour’s washing machine has flooded. If the person whose property has been damaged has house insurance, s/he should submit a claim to the insurance company. Where the insurance company decides that the damage is not covered by the policy or where the person has no insurance, s/he will need to pursue other options to recover the loss.
The neighbour could be approached and asked to pay for the damage. If s/he refuses to pay, s/he could be taken to court for negligence, if it can be proven that s/he did not take reasonable care to prevent the accident happening.
If you are thinking of taking court action you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.
To establish who is responsible for keeping a shared garden in good order, you should check the title deeds of the property.
If you believe a neighbour’s garden is a health hazard, you should contact the local authority environmental health department.
If a neighbour is unable to look after her/his garden due to disability or old age, s/he may be able to get help from the local authority. The authority may run a garden aid scheme, providing a basic gardening service to people unable to look after their gardens.
If your property is damaged as a result of a neighbour’s lack of care, or failure to maintain her/his garden (for example, tree roots coming up in your drive) the neighbour could be liable for damages.
If a neighbour’s hedge is tall and blocks out light you can ask the local authority for help if you can't resolve the problem with your neighbour. You will have to try to solve the problem before you apply as the local authority will expect you to try to do that.
If there are overhanging branches in your garden you can trim them back to the boundary wall or fence but you should not reduce the height of them without the permission of the owner.
Maintenance of shared facilities
There may be amenities which are shared between two or more properties, for example, common stairs, washing greens, the roof of a block of flats. Responsibility for maintaining them and rights to use them are usually outlined in the title deeds of the property.
When neighbours fail to reach agreement about cleaning and maintenance responsibilities, the local authority environmental health department can be brought in to settle the matter. The environmental health department can order households to clean the stairs and prosecute if necessary. If communal land, for example, a shared drying green, is kept in a state which poses a nuisance or danger, the environmental health department can serve a notice on the owner/s of the land, requiring them to take steps to maintain the land properly within a given time period.
As a first step, you should talk to the neighbour making the noise and ask her/him to reduce it. If the noise is not reduced and the neighbour is a tenant, it may be worth contacting the neighbour’s landlord. If the problem persists it is very helpful for you to keep a record/diary of the frequency and type of disturbance, which can be used as evidence in any future action.
If an informal approach to the neighbour is unsuccessful, the police may be willing to get involved. They may be able to ensure that noise is reduced simply by visiting the neighbour. The police also have specific powers to deal with excessive noise. They may be able to issue fines to people who have failed to stop the noise after being asked to do so or they may confiscate sound producing equipment.
Local authorities have a range of powers to deal with noise problems. The Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 has introduced a number of remedies for dealing with noise. Local authorities have a discretion to adopt these provisions. These include local authority officers having the power to issue warning notices where noise exceeds permitted levels. If the person responsible for the noise does not reduce it after being given a warning notice, s/he may be committing a criminal offence. Either the local authority officer or a police constable may issue the person with a fixed penalty notice. Steps may also be taken to seize and remove noise making equipment.
Even where these provisions from the Antisocial behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004 are not appropriate or have not been adopted by the local authority, you should still contact your local authority. They have a range of other powers to deal with noise problems. An environmental health officer may be able to visit your home to assess the noise problem.
Noise in the street
Loudspeakers (except those used by the police, fire and ambulance services) must not be used in the street at night. Ice cream and grocery vans are allowed to use chimes or bells to advertise their services between noon and 7pm. You should make any complaints about noise from loudspeakers or chimes to the police or to the environmental health department of the local authority.
Neighbour spreading rumours
If you believe that a neighbour is spreading rumours about you, you should consider tolerating the rumours until they become less frequent or disappear altogether. You could also approach the neighbour directly and ask for an explanation and perhaps seek an apology. A mediator may also be able to help both sides to reach an agreement.
Where informal courses of action are unsuccessful, you could apply to court for an interdict to prevent the neighbour making any further defamatory statements. However, it may be difficult to prove what the neighbour has said or done and court action is likely to prove expensive.
Medical and psychological problems
If a neighbour has medical or psychological problems, this may affect the way s/he behaves towards you and others. If the neighbour has a regular visitor, such as another member of the family, a social worker, health visitor or doctor, you could approach her/him about the problems the neighbour is causing. The visitor may be able to ease the situation by speaking to the neighbour or by explaining the reasons for her/his behaviour.
Violence and assaults (including racist attacks and racial harassment)
Where a neighbour is physically violent or behaves in a dangerous manner towards you or other neighbours, the matter should be reported to the police. If a neighbour dispute results in a fight in which you are assaulted by a neighbour, you may want to take legal action against the neighbour.
In some cases, violence, assaults and harassment may be part of a pattern of antisocial behaviour.
See Antisocial behaviour.
The owner of a tree has a legal obligation to take due care that it does not damage a neighbour’s property, including a garden as well as a driveway with for example, overgrown roots or branches. You should ask your neighbour if s/he is prepared to cut the tree back. You are entitled to cut back roots and branches that overhang onto your property, but it may be useful to discuss the problem before you do any trimming back. When you have a problem of daylight being taken away from your property by a neighbour’s tree it may be more difficult to solve because you do not have the right to take any height off your neighbour’s tree. If you have lost daylight to your property, or views you previously enjoyed you should try to negotiate with your neighbour to reduce the height of the tree. If the neighbour refuses you could take legal action but discuss this with a solicitor because it could be very expensive. If your tree is causing a danger or obstacle in a public road or pathway, you can be forced to cut it back.
Resolving neighbour disputes
Approach the neighbour
You should first make a complaint to the neighbour. If it seems that one or both parties will be unable to keep her/his temper during such a meeting, it may be advisable to write a letter to the neighbour.
Sometimes a neighbour may be made to see that her/his behaviour is anti-social or is causing a nuisance, 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. Mediators are independent people who will listen to both sides and help you to reach an agreement which you can live with. Mediation is usually free and confidential and can stop problems from getting out of hand.
The Scottish Mediation Network will be able to give information about mediators in your area. It can be contacted at:-
Scottish Mediation Network
18 York Place
Tel: 0131 556 1221
Helpline: 0131 556 8118
The Scottish Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (SACRO)
SACRO provides a wide range of services using mediation skills including direct services to clients who have not necessarily been offenders. The local services are linked to from www.sacro.org.uk. If you want to contact your local service by telephone or letter you can obtain the details from the national administration office at:-
1 Broughton Market
Tel: 0131 624 9200
Apply for an anti-social behaviour order
A local authority or a registered social landlord can apply for an anti-social behaviour order when the anti-social behaviour relates to one of its tenants. When an anti-social neighbour is a private tenant or an owner occupier, a local authority can apply for an anti-social behaviour order if requested to do so.
See Antisocial behaviour.
If the offending neighbour is a tenant and refuses to co-operate when approached directly, it may be appropriate for you to contact the landlord.
Who is the landlord
If the property is owned by the local authority or a registered social landlord, you should approach the department responsible for housing within the agency. It may be prepared to contact the offending neighbour to help resolve the problem.
If informal negotiations fail, the agency has a range of approaches available to it for tackling the anti-social behaviour of its tenants and resolving neighbour disputes. It should have a policy which explains how it will deal with these cases. It will be able to enforce the terms of the tenancy agreement, which may prohibit certain types of behaviour. The local authority and registered social landlord may also apply to court for an order, for example an interdict or an anti-social behaviour order, to prohibit someone from continuing with the offending behaviour. As a last resort, it may be able to evict the offending tenant.
If the property is owned or run by a registered social landlord, it may have a housing officer who deals with disagreements between neighbours.
If you think discrimination is involved in a neighbour dispute, make sure your landlord knows this – see under heading Abusive neighbour disputes and discrimination.
A private landlord can take court action against a tenant who is being a nuisance to neighbours. If it is possible to find out who the landlord is, s/he might be prepared to talk to the tenant about the problem.
Call the police
You can call the police 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 – see under heading Abusive neighbour disputes and discrimination.
The police have a range of powers to deal with situations where neighbour disputes involve antisocial behaviour.
See Antisocial behaviour.
In cases where neighbours may be breaching public health or pollution laws, you can approach the local authority environmental health department. See under heading Common neighbour problems.
An environmental health officer will usually contact the neighbour and may attempt to resolve the matter informally. If the officer thinks that a nuisance exists, a notice may be served on the neighbour, requiring abatement of the nuisance. This means s/he is required to stop, or deal with, the nuisance.
The Environmental Health Department can also carry out enforcement action to repair leaks and can obtain warrants for forced entry in certain circumstances to undertake necessary work.
You can approach the local authority building control department in cases where one neighbour has refused to co-operate with a joint maintenance responsibility, such as a roof repair.
After an inspection, the building control department may serve a notice on all owners responsible for that part of the property, requiring them to put it in order within a certain time period. Some local authorities will only carry out an inspection if the property is thought to pose a danger. The procedure followed will vary between authorities.
The local authority 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. Planning Aid for Scotland may be able to offer you free advice if you want to object to a planning proposal. Visit www.pas.org.uk for more information about how you can get help from Planning Aid for Scotland.
If a neighbour dispute is serious or longstanding you may wish to contact a local councillor or Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP). It may also be possible to give details of the dispute to the councillors sitting on a committee relevant to the dispute, for example the planning committee in a case of breach of planning regulations.
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. A letter from a solicitor may also be necessary to explain the legal position in a dispute, for example where neighbours cannot agree about the position of a boundary between their properties.
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 you are eligible for legal aid.
If you are thinking of taking court action you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.
Abusive neighbour disputes and discrimination
Some behaviour by neighbours could amount to discrimination and may be against the law. 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.
- More about discrimination in housing
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' and it is 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.
There is a booklet available called Neighbour problems that can be downloaded and printed from the Citizens Advice Scotland website at www.cas.org.uk.
There is useful information on the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman website about antisocial behaviour and neighbour problems at www.spso.org.uk .