Difficult neighbours can be a serious problem for property investors, causing anything from minor noise irritations to affecting the property’s value or earning potential.
At SDL Property Auctions we often hear of issues such as noise, light pollution, mess, parking and boundary disputes. At their most extreme, these have the potential to harm your investment.
If you have a property to sell, its value could be affected by the state of neighbouring properties or the behaviour of those next door. As a landlord, if your tenants are experiencing neighbour issues, they may move out sooner than planned. Word may get round and you could find it difficult to let the property unless you reduce the asking rent.
It may seem like an impossible dream to restore harmony to a troubled neighbourhood but there are steps you can take – and set procedures you must follow.
First, establish the nature of the problem and its cause. Everyday sounds such as babies, children or moving around a home are not considered a problem. Even noisy parties are not considered a problem if they only occur a few times a year. However, if sleep is frequently disturbed by persistent loud music, that is a different matter.
Certain problems – including noise, smoke, smells, artificial light (from premises, not street lamps), insect infestations and rubbish – are considered ‘statutory nuisances’ under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and local authorities must investigate complaints about these if they can be proved either to:
However, some problems are too serious for the council to deal with, such as if there is criminal activity, abusive behaviour or threats of violence, sexual harassment or harassment based on a resident’s sexuality, religion or ethnic background. If this is the case, then you can bypass the council and go straight to the police.
In the cases of statutory nuisances, it is important to establish what’s really happening by talking to other neighbours to find out if they are having similar issues. If they are, you will have a stronger case if you need to take the problem further.
If no other neighbours are having problems, it is worth doing some investigating before making any assumptions as there are two sides to every story. It is important to rule out the possibility of your tenants provoking the neighbours and prompting them to behave antisocially.
The next step is to try to resolve things amicably. Local authorities are reluctant to step in until they know you have attempted this and there is always the hope that the problem neighbour will be reasonable and not realise there is an issue. Make a note of any conversations to keep as evidence in case you need to escalate the problem to the council.
If it is not safe or possible to speak to them in person, or you have tried and failed, you can write a polite note explaining the issue and asking them to resolve it. Keep a copy of this and any other correspondence as evidence to show to the local authority if required.
The troublesome neighbour may be a tenant too, in which case you could approach their landlord and ask them to step in.
Keep a diary – or ask your tenants to keep a diary – as further evidence, recording the date, time and details of each incident, ideally at the time of it occurring, while it is still fresh in the mind.
It can be useful to enlist the services of an independent mediator to help you, your tenants and the problem neighbour come to an agreement that is acceptable to everyone. There is a charge for mediation services but it should work out cheaper than hiring a solicitor and taking legal action. Your local authority may offer mediation services, or you can find one through the Civil Mediation Council (CMC) or the Scottish Mediation Register.
If none of this works, it is time to report the issue to the local authority’s environmental health department, ideally in writing so you can keep a copy for your records. It is worth noting here that you cannot usually report a problem anonymously, although all complaints are treated in confidence. If the complaint leads to legal action, however, you may be required to attend court and then of course your identity will be known.
The council will require details of the problem, how it is affecting you or your tenants, along with information about any steps you have taken to resolve the issue; this is why it is important to attempt to sort things out amicably first.
They may ask you to keep a record of the nuisance so if you have your diary already, this may help. However, don’t be surprised if they ask you to repeat this for their own forms.
If the authority decides the problem does constitute a statutory nuisance, they may serve your neighbour with an Abatement Notice under Section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. If the neighbour disagrees with the notice, or does not comply, then the case may go to court.
All of this is time-consuming and potentially costly so you could take a shortcut and sell up instead. You will need to disclose any ongoing disputes on the Property Information form (TA6) which can be off-putting to buyers on the open market – however this is unlikely to act as a deterrent to auction buyers. At SDL Property Auctions we have a wide network of investors who are willing to take on any challenge.
What’s more, a change of ownership can even break the cycle of antisocial behaviour. Sometimes there comes a point where the behaviour becomes motivated by grudge and therefore selling the property can bring it to an end; an easy solution to what may have seemed an insurmountable problem.
*Andrew Parker is the managing director and auctioneer at SDL Property Auctions