Nightmare Neighbours – What Actions Can Be Taken Against Them?

Some of us are unfortunate enough to encounter nightmare neighbours who negatively impact our day-to-day life to varying degrees. This article seeks to explore the options available to clients who need to take further steps to resolve their neighbour disputes.

It is, of course, advised that anyone experiencing an issue with their neighbour first try to resolve it directly with the neighbour. This may be verbally or in written communication. Clients should always be advised to keep a written record of any issues and communication sent or received.

But what happens next if a friendly request to cease certain actions is rebuffed? Most commonly an application for a civil injunction will be issued, under what act will be dependent on whether the client owns their property, privately rents or is a social housing tenant. However, there are some actions that can be taken before commencing litigation.

Letter Before Action

There is no specific pre-action protocol for civil injunction applications. The parties will be expected to comply with the general pre-action protocol. A simple and direct letter before action setting out the following might be enough to focus the neighbour’s mind and prevent any further steps needing to be taken:

(a) behaviour complained of;
(b) proposed resolution;
(c) potential courses of action (i.e. injunction);
(d) consequences if an injunction is breached; and
(e) potential cost implications.

This action can be taken whether the client is the owner of the property, tenant (privately renting or through social housing) or provider of social housing.

Mediation

Instead of taking legal action straight away, the client should consider whether mediation would be appropriate. An independent mediator could assist the parties in coming to an amicable resolution whilst maintaining what is left of the neighbour relationship.

Becket Chambers can provide assistance to parties attending mediation and Becket Mediation (www.becketmediation.co.uk) has a number of Civil Mediation Council-approved civil mediators to assist with any disputes.

Community Protection Notice

The provider of social housing and/or the police can apply for a Community Protection Notice (“CPN”) against the neighbour who persists with anti-social behaviour (the cause of the nuisance must be aged 16+). A CPN can be issued when the conduct complained of is:

(a) having a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality;
(b) persistent or continuing in nature; and
(c) unreasonable.

There is no restriction on what type of behaviour is required in order to apply for a CPN. Before a CPN is issued, a written warning should be issued to the neighbour. The length of time between a written warning and a CPN is decided on a case-by-case basis.

The CPN can require the neighbour to do, or cease doing, something or to take reasonable steps to achieve a specified result. Failure to comply with a CPN is a criminal offence and may result in a fixed penalty notice, remedial work or forfeiture of items.

A CPN notice is only available in England.

Injunction (Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014)

The provider of social housing and/or the police can also apply for an injunction under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 in respect of anyone over the age of 10. The court must be satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the neighbour has:

(a) engaged, or threatened to engage, in anti-social behaviour; and
(b) it is just and convenient to grant an injunction for the purposes of preventing the neighbour from engaging in anti-social behaviour.

Anti-social behaviour is defined as conduct:
(a) that has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person;
(b) capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to a person in relation to that person’s occupation of residential premises; or
(c) capable of causing housing-related nuisance or annoyance to any person.

The court can also attach a power of arrest to a prohibition or requirement in the injunction, although not an activity requirement, where the complained of behaviour consists of violence, or threat of violence, or there is a significant risk of harm to another person.

Injunction (The Protection from Harassment Act 1997)

A client who owns their property or is renting their property (whether privately or not) can apply for an injunction under The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 where they believe that their neighbour’s actions constitute a course of conduct that amounts to harassment, and which they know, or ought to know, amounts to harassment.

The course of conduct must occur on at least 2 occasions if against an individual. Conduct that might amount to harassment could be:

(a) violence, or threat of violence;
(b) abusive or insulting words or behaviour; or
(c) damage, or threat of damage, to property or belongings.

The neighbour may have a defence to an application under this Act if they can prove that their course of conduct was for (i) the purpose of preventing or detecting crime, (ii) that it was pursued under any enactment or rule of law or to comply with any condition or requirement imposed by any person under any enactment, or (iii) that in the particular circumstances the pursuit of the course of conduct was reasonable.

It is important to remind clients that although they may personally find their neighbour’s behaviour particularly frustrating, the court may not take the same view and costs could be wasted, or worse awarded against the client. A pragmatic view will need to be taken as to what solutions are realistically possible and any solutions proposed. For example, if a neighbour proposed to use virtual privacy filters on their CCTV to prevent the filming of the client’s land, would this be an adequate solution?

Injunction (Private Nuisance)

It is also possible to apply for an injunction under private nuisance where a neighbour is unreasonably using their land which leads to an unreasonable interference with the client’s use, or enjoyment, of their land. This can be applied for in tandem with an application under The Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Becket Chambers are experienced in providing advice on the merits of an injunction application, drafting injunction applications and representing clients applying for and responding to injunction applications. If you require advice or assistance with an injunction matter, please contact us on 01227 786331 or clerks@becket-chambers.co.uk