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Settling Disputes with Neighbours

Having an argument or a disagreement with someone in your neighbourhood is not uncommon (e.g. because of a barking dog, a high hedge, or a parking problem).

The information in this guide lists the steps for resolving a dispute with a neighbour and what to do if they issue threats or the situation turns violent.

If You Have a Dispute with Your Neighbour

  1. Talk to them and try solving it in an informal way.
  2. Contact their landlord (e.g. if your neighbour is a tenant).
  3. Use a mediation service if you cannot resolve it ‘informally’.
  4. Some disputes involve a statutory nuisance (e.g. loud music). If so, you can make a complaint to your local council.
  5. You should contact the police if your neighbour is breaking the law (e.g. harassing you or being violent).
  6. The last resort is taking legal action through the courts.

Note: The help guide for resolving neighbour disputes is also available in Welsh language (Datrys anghydfodau rhwng cymdogion).

Keeping Notes and Records

In most cases, it is important to keep notes about the problems. Accurate and factual records would be useful for legal professionals if you seek further action. Include as many details that you can (e.g. what happened, how it affected you, and for how long).

So for example, you could record something like:

“23rd of July 2020; my neighbour’s dogs at number 23 in my street were barking from 9:15pm to 11:35pm; it was so loud that I could hear them in my living room; it was so annoying that I turned up the volume on my TV to drown out the noise.”

Here’s the important part:

Always keep any messages you get from your neighbour. Furthermore, collect anything that you can as evidence (if it’s safe to do so). An example would be taking a photograph of fly-tipped rubbish (e.g. dumped outside your home).

Solving Common Neighbour Disputes

Often, you can resolve the most common issues before you need to make a formal complaint (or involve others). For example, you could try having a friendly discussion about the actual problem.

You may have some concerns about approaching them. If so, you could write a letter and explain the problem in a clear and factual manner.

Sometimes, the dispute will affect other people in the neighbourhood. If so, it is usually best to involve them in any discussions.

As a rule, a quarrel or controversy is easier to settle if more than one person is complaining. Hence, being a member of a tenants’ association, or creating one, may help.

Note: The Citizens Advice Bureau offer free and practical advice about dealing with the most common neighbour disputes (e.g. noise, abandoned rubbish).

Contacting a Neighbour’s Landlord

You can complain about a problematic neighbour to their landlord if they are renting (e.g. to private landlords or local councils).

Note: The Regulator of Social Housing produces a list of social housing providers (including current registrations and deregistrations).

Using Mediation Services

In most cases, speaking to your neighbour will settle the issue. But, you may choose to get expert help from a mediation service instead.

How Does Mediation Work?

In simple terms, mediation uses an impartial person (like a referee). They will be trained in dealing with difficult and complex discussions held between two sides that are unable to get an agreement.

Some local councils and housing associations provide a mediation service. But, the actual area where you live will determine what kind of mediation services are available:

Note: Most mediation services will charge a fee. But, hiring the services of a solicitor (e.g. taking legal action) will be more expensive in the long run.

Complaining to the Council about Noise

You can report a noise nuisance to your council if a dispute with a neighbour is a ‘statutory nuisance’ (damaging to health).

Typical examples of statutory nuisances covered by law in the United Kingdom, include:

  • Accumulations or deposits at premises (e.g. rotting rubbish).
  • Artificial light emanating from premises (excludes street lamps).
  • Dust, steam, or insect infestations at business premises (including smells coming from sewage treatment works, factories, or restaurants).
  • Noise (from barking dogs, loud music, premises, equipment, machinery, or vehicles in the street).
  • Smoke, fumes, or gases coming from business, residential, or industrial premises (if covered by statutory nuisance laws).

Even though your council has a duty to investigate all statutory nuisances, you should try to solve the problem using the methods listed above before contacting them.

Penalties: Noise Abatement Order

Councils issue noise abatement orders if they determine someone is causing a statutory noise nuisance. It has instructions on what the person must do to avoid further legal action (e.g. stop making a noise).

Note: Breaking an abatement order can result in a fine up to £5,000 if it is about noise from domestic premises. The penalty for noise coming from a factory or business can be £20,000.

Disputes about High Hedges and Boundaries

The council cannot intervene in a dispute about high hedges until you have tried the ‘informal’ method of solving it. But, you can get a complaint form from the council if the hedge is (all):

  • At least two (2) mostly evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs.
  • More than two (2) metres high.
  • The height of the hedge is affecting your enjoyment of your home or garden.

Note: The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government produces further guidance about how local authorities deal with high hedge disputes between neighbours. There may be a fee for involving the council.

When Can You Trim Hedges or Trees?

The law allows you to trim branches or roots if they cross into your property from that of a neighbour (or from a public road).

But, you can only trim foliage up to the property boundary. Your neighbour could take legal action in a court for ‘damaging their property’ if you trim branches or roots beyond the boundary.

As a rule, before you start trimming, topping, or lopping foliage, you would need to apply to work on a tree that’s protected if (either):

  • You are living in a conservation area.
  • The hedges or trees are protected by ‘tree preservation orders’ (TPO).

Note: Another section has more information on consumer rights about trimming overhanging trees and how to avoid breaking the law.

Properties Bordering a Road

The highways authority is likely to get involved if your property borders a road. They can ask that you cut back any hedges or trees that cause an obstruction in the road.

Furthermore, they can come on to your land and carry out the work themselves (without your permission) and charge you a fee for doing so.

If Hedges are Damaging Your Property

As a rule, all neighbours have a responsibility for maintaining their own hedges. Hence, your neighbour may be liable if their foliage grows too high or it damages someone else’s property.

Note: Another section explains the process of Disputes with Neighbours made by a local council.

Boundaries and Shared Walls

Disputes about your property boundaries (e.g. a boundary or party wall shared between two properties) can be difficult for neighbours to solve without seeking legal advice.

Nonetheless, you would need to give advance notice to your neighbour before doing any work on a ‘party’ wall (shared).

Note: You can get free advice about boundary disputes and party walls from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

When to Call the Police?

It is not always possible to resolve disputes between neighbours in a friendly manner. Furthermore, you should always contact the police if the situation becomes threatening, or:

  • Abusive.
  • It breaks any of the laws in the United Kingdom.
  • Harassing (e.g. because of your sexuality, ethnicity, or religion).
  • Violent.

Taking Action through the Courts

Despite being considered as a last resort, you should be able to take legal action against a neighbour through the court systems (e.g. at a County Court).

The process of taking another person or business to court can be complex and expensive. Besides paying a solicitor for their services, you may also need to pay court and tribunal fees.

Related Help Guides

Most of the responsibility for providing services and specialised facilities in your area rests with your local council. Even so, the amount of coverage that you get will depend on where you live.

Understanding the strict rules on controlling your dog in public areas can help you avoid getting a large fine, a significant prison sentence, or both.

Note: Research suggests around 60% of people row with their neighbours. The short video, presented by a lawyer, contains expert advice on what to do if you are living next to a nuisance neighbour.

Steps for Resolving Neighbour Disputes in United Kingdom