What to do when unruly neighbours make your life a misery
When you own your home, a bad neighbour can make life unbearable. Escaping the situation isn’t as simple as merely packing up and moving. Conflicts between neighbours can stretch out for years and become increasingly nasty over time.
Disputes with neighbours can stem from a variety of circumstances. Problems can arise over noise, pets, boundary issues or any number of other everyday annoyances.
If you’re suffering the misfortune of living next to a bad neighbour, it’s important to get on top of the situation as quickly as possible. With the right approach, the right kind of communication and a little luck, you may just defuse the situation before it descends into all-out war.
The absolute first and most crucial step in resolving a dispute with your neighbour is to communicate. If something is bothering you, or you become aware that something is bothering your neighbour, take proactive steps to communicate and see if you can come to a peaceful resolution.
Your approach to communicating is of paramount importance. Make sure you lay out your concerns as clearly, factually, politely and humbly as you can. Avoid charged language or accusations. Even the tensest neighbour situations can often be defused by friendliness.
Communicate clearly what you believe the problem is. Be specific rather than reverting to broad generalities that might put your neighbour on the defensive. For instance, rather than saying something like, “You’re loud all the time”, be specific about some of the times your neighbour’s noisiness has been a disruption and why.
Stick to only the facts of the situation. Don’t allow things to escalate by making value judgements or emotional accusations. Also, avoid throwing out threats or ultimatums, especially ones you can’t back up with action.
This can be a tough one when you’re dealing with a neighbour who hasn’t shown consideration towards you. Nevertheless, err on the side of politeness. Try to disarm your neighbour with a friendly demeanour. Even if you’re approaching them with a grievance, framing it with a cordial disposition can dramatically change their response.
This doesn’t mean you have to be weak-willed or timid. It merely means you should take an open-minded approach to the idea that you may share guilt in the situation. If you’re dogged by constant noise complaints, it’s worth some honest self-evaluation to determine if you’re being as considerate as you can be. Conversely, if you’re plagued by a noisy neighbour, take some time to consider whether your expectations are reasonable.
The absolute best outcome to any neighbour dispute is if you and your neighbour can resolve the issue between yourselves. The only way this can happen is if you communicate your grievance.
There is one important caveat, however: Never approach your neighbour if you fear they may become violent or aggressive, and particularly if they are drug- or alcohol-affected. Contact the police rather than risking your safety trying to smooth things over.
Should you and your neighbour be unable to reach an agreement, the next step would be to seek the help of a third-party mediator. Most state and territory governments have organisations that offer free mediation services. Mediation sessions are conducted by trained individuals who can help you reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
Generally, mediators will take steps to understand and identify the issues causing problems, and explore options to help address them. The mediator will then work with both parties to reach an agreement, and will document any agreement reached.
Mediation is informal and voluntary. This means it avoids escalating your conflict to the level of legal action. You and your neighbour can avoid making the matter more contentious, and can work toward a solution with an independent, unbiased third party.
Because mediation is voluntary, this means you and your neighbour will both have to agree to take part. It also means that abiding by any resolution reached during mediation will also be voluntary.
If you’ve tried to communicate one-on-one with no avail, and if mediation has not been successful, there are legal avenues available, depending on your dispute.
If your complaint is over noise, the proper channel will depend upon the source of the noise. You can file police complaints or complaints with your local council over loud parties or music. You can also file a complaint with your local council about noise from dogs barking. Loud-vehicle complaints generally fall to a state or territory’s transportation authority.
If you have a dispute over fencing, this is generally handled by your state or territory’s administrative tribunal. For a full discussion on fencing rights, responsibilities and disputes, check out our guide.
Should you feel your neighbour is harassing, stalking or bullying you, this is a matter for the police. You can apply for an apprehended violence order (AVO), which will set conditions on the kind of contact your neighbour can have with you. AVOs often carry harsh penalties for breaching these conditions. Be aware, though, that your neighbour can challenge your AVO in court. Before applying, talk through the issue with the police and make sure the application is warranted.
If you believe legal action is your only recourse, it’s wise to thoroughly document any negative interactions you have with your neighbour, noting the date, time and circumstances. This will give you a record to refer to later when making your complaint.
Legal action may legitimately be the only solution to your neighbour issues, but be aware that bringing legal action against a neighbour may damage the relationship beyond the point of no return. Before you proceed, make sure you’ve exhausted any other feasible options.