Problem neighbours are not just a problem to live next to. They can also affect sold property prices, which can be a real handicap for a prospective seller.
First, let’s clarify what we mean by a problem neighbour. Here is a summary of some of the most common disputes between neighbours:
It might be constant DIY projects, a very loud television, blaring music or frequent domestic arguments but, whatever the source, there’s no doubt that noisy neighbours are unwelcome. The first step to tackling the issue is usually to speak to the neighbours directly to see if you can reach a cooperative solution. For instance, if it’s DIY that’s causing the noise, it might be reasonable to ask the neighbour to restrict the work to certain hours of the day. Someone whose TV is very loud may be unaware of the issue, perhaps because they have hearing issues. They may be prepared to rearrange a room so as to relocate their TV away from a party wall or they may consider investing in Bluetooth headphones. Bear in mind, however, that some noise issues are less easy to solve than others. Crying babies often come into this category, although some parents may be willing and able to rejig bedrooms so as to minimise noise disruption to their neighbours.
If talking to the neighbour fails to solve the problem, the next step is to seek external help. For a rented property, this is usually the landlord. For a housing association property or where a landlord has not helped, this might be the Housing Ombudsman Service. For privately-owned homes, this next step could be a specialist mediation service. In certain circumstances, especially noise pollution or rubbish issues, environmental health at the local council may be able help. However, complainants who have not kept a diary of their issues may first be advised to go away and do so before re-contacting the council. The police may also be an appropriate response, particularly where the complaints relate to anti-social behaviour such as drinking, drugs, violence, harassment or other forms of law-breaking. The final line of defence is to take legal action through a solicitor. Although a complainant may be able to get initial free advice, bringing a claim to court is likely to be expensive, time-consuming and not inevitably successful. It can also irreparably damage relations with the neighbour concerned.
Another common source of disputes between neighbours, boundary issues can be thorny to solve. Whatever the particular issue, the property’s deeds are usually the first port of call but it may be necessary to seek specialist advice.
There are two subsets to this category. The first consists of trees or planting that in some way affects a neighbour’s property. Typically, this might be due to tree roots threatening that property’s foundations, to trees that block out light or a result of invasive plants such as Japanese knotweed. The second subset covers gardens that some people might describe as an “eyesore”.
Maintenance of shared facilities
This can be a particular problem in flats. Although the lease should stipulate who has responsibility for maintaining common areas, this will not always be the case - and not everyone will always adhere to their particular responsibilities. Clarifying matters or enforcing obligations can be expensive, time-consuming and, ultimately, not always successful.
Noisy children are one thing. Those that cause damage to a property can be entirely another. Talking to their parents may get results but, equally, may not.
Next, let’s consider the potential impact of having a problem neighbour. In the best case scenario, you discuss the issue with the neighbour and reach an amicable solution. In the worst, the neighbour refuses to address the problem and the situation escalates.
Now let’s think about what happens if:
1. You want to sell your property for reasons that have nothing to do with your problem neighbour.
2. Your problems with your neighbour prompt you to try to sell your home.
How might your problem neighbour affect your sale?
You might think (or hope) that this is a situation that “caveat emptor” was dreamed up for. Unfortunately not. The law is very much on the side of the purchaser. This means that whether or not a buyer decides to ask appropriate questions designed to uncover potential issues does not absolve a seller from a legal responsibility to disclose relevant information concerning a dispute with a neighbour. What’s more, this legal duty does not merely cover current disputes; it also extends over past (resolved) disputes.
The next logical question for the concerned seller is what constitutes a dispute. This is something of a grey area. Loud music, noisy children and even barking dogs are less likely to amount to one, particularly if the issue was resolved by the two parties speaking face-to-face. However, even here, a seller should be careful, especially if a would-be buyer asks for written confirmation of any issues. It’s essential for a seller in this position to speak to their solicitor and follow the advice given. Citizens Advice are also usually able to assist.
Issues that are more likely to amount to a dispute under the law are those that potentially materially affect the property or the land on which it’s built. A boundary issue is an obvious example. A good general rule of thumb is that anything that prompted a seller to contact environmental health, the police or the courts must be declared to a prospective buyer.
Saving a sale
Somewhat inevitably, disclosing a problem neighbour is likely to impact a property’s saleability. Even if an interested buyer does not turn tail and run, they may attempt to negotiate down the selling price. However, problem neighbours do not always equal slumping sold property prices.
Being mindful of the issues when pricing the property in the first place is essential. So, too, is being candid and up-front with the estate agent, as this may prompt the agent to market the property differently, perhaps by targeting landlords rather than private buyers.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that what’s a problem neighbour to one person is not necessarily a problem to someone else. For instance, someone who’s hard-of-hearing may not mind living next to an early-morning pianist. A parent with young children might be relieved at the thought of living next door to another such family. And someone who isn’t a keen gardener could be less perturbed at overlooking a neighbour’s unkempt back lawn than someone who visits the Chelsea Flower Show every year.
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