Other problems with your neighbours
Living close to people can raise all sorts of problems. The best approach is usually negotiation. This page outlines your rights in a range of different problems with neighbours.
Repairs and maintenance of a neighbouring property
You may want to force your neighbour to carry out repairs to their property because it is damaging your house. For example, a badly-kept house may lower the value of your property. If the repairs are your neighbour's responsibility you are best to try to negotiate with your neighbour.
If your neighbour's property is in a very dangerous condition you can ask the Environmental Health Department to take action. If this doesn't work, you may be able to bring a civil case. You will need to get legal advice as this is a complex area of the law.
There may be amenities shared between two or more properties, for example, drains and pipes or the roof on a block or flats. Responsibility for keeping them in good order, and rights to use them, for example, putting up an aerial on a shared chimney are usually outlined in the respective properties' title deeds or leases.
Where there is a shared amenity which is in need of repair the first step is to find out who is responsible for repairs. However, the deeds or lease do not always provide clear evidence and, in this case, it is probably best to settle in advance that the costs will be shared between owners.
Shared driveways are often a reason for disputes between neighbours. Neighbours usually have a right of way to use the drive, but not to block it. If your neighbour does block the driveway, you will have to consult a solicitor to talk about getting an injunction to stop the obstruction.
A tree overhanging into your property is a form of trespass. You can ask the tree-owner to trim back the tree. If your neighbour won't do this you have the right to trim the tree back to the boundary line. You cannot trim a tree if it is subject to a tree preservation order, so it's worth checking this with your local councilfirst. Any branches and/or fruit removed belong to the tree's owner and should be returned without causing any damage.
If you want to stop your neighbour cutting back your tree you can apply to the planning service for a 'tree preservation order'. This kind of order will not always be granted by the council.
If the roots of your neighbour's tree spread into your property, they can be removed using the least damaging method available. You must give reasonable notice if you have to enter your neighbour's property to do this. Your neighbour may have to pay compensation if the roots have already caused damage.
There is no legal remedy for leaves blowing in from a neighbour's garden. You simply have to clear up the leaves yourself.
Rights to Light
You don't have an automatic right to prevent a neighbour blocking your light. However, if light has previously been enjoyed coming from across your neighbour's property for at least 20 years, you generally have a right to continue receiving that light. This right applies even if:
- you have lived there for less than 20 years, and
- the building has been unoccupied for part of that time.
Two exceptions to the 20 year rule are that:
- the right may be enjoyed by consent. This usually means that the owner of the window makes a nominal yearly payment and acquires the right to light immediately
- the title deeds may prevent a right to light being acquired. This is quite common in housing estates.
The right only applies to the light coming onto windows in buildings, for example, in the house or greenhouse. It does not apply to light coming onto land such as a garden. If your neighbour's extension prevents you from sunbathing nothing can be done.
There is no general right to:
- privacy, for example, if a neighbour builds an extension which overlooks the property owner's bedroom window; and/or
- protect the view, for example, if the neighbour's extension blocks the view.
However, you can object to a neighbour's plans for an extension through the planning permission procedure. Any overlooking or loss of view will be a relevant consideration in any planning decision. Any loss in value of your property will not be.
Your right to make a bonfire may be affected by:
- clauses in the deeds or lease
- local bye-laws, or
- any smokeless zone restrictions.
A particularly smelly or smoky bonfire may also constitute a legal 'nuisance'. The best course of action is usually mediation.
If your neighbour has a dangerous bonfire, you may enter their property to control it. You are legally allowed to use any necessary force to overcome your neighbour's resistance.
Damage done by children
A low key approach is probably the best solution if a neighbour's child causes damage to your property. Legally, the child can be sued for damages if s/he is old enough to know what s/he was doing. A child will not be criminally responsible for her/his action if s/he is under 10 years old. Between 10 and 14 a child is presumed not to be criminally responsible. However, this presumption can be rebutted if there is sufficient evidence.
In practice, this is unrealistic since, firstly, few courts would look favourably on such an action and, secondly, the child is unlikely to have much money to pay the damages. Mediation is usually the best approach.
Balls and ball games
If a child throws a ball into your property, you should either hand it back or allow it to be collected. However, you are entitled to compensation if you can prove that you have lost money for example, the ball has smashed a window.
It is illegal to play football or any other game on a public road or footpath to the annoyance of another user. It may be worth reporting this to the police if children are causing nuisance by playing games in the street.
Running a business from home
Your neighbour's rights to run a business from home may be affected by planning regulations. For example, s/he will require permission for commercial or office use. This means that your neighbour can't turn her/his house into a pub, for example, overnight. You will always be asked for your views before planning permission is granted.
Unless there are local parking restrictions giving her/him a right to the particular place, residents do not have an automatic right to any parking space in front of their house. If a car is actually parked across her/his driveway, however, s/he may legitimately claim right of access.
No-one should park on a footpath anywhere. Vehicles should be parked in parking bays or roads, depending on parking restrictions. You can be fined for parking on the footpath.
Mediation Northern Ireland is free, confidential and available throughout Northern Ireland. It can put neighbours in touch with a trained mediator in their area. The mediator's role is to encourage each party to talk freely, explain the point of view, find common ground and come up with an agreed way forward.