Ways to tackle neighbours from hell who build for years
AN Englishman’s home is his cstle and now there is a new weapon in the armoury to combat neighbours from hell who create havoc with building work.
Oxley & Coward Solicitors LLP in Rotherham say that a new case from the Court of Appeals shows that home owners whose building work can be shown to torment their neighbours could find themselves in court for harassment. Property owners who carry out building works could find themselves liable not just for nuisance, but for harassment if their behaviour during the works amounts to deliberate and persistent tormenting, as in the recent case of Jones and Lovegrove.
Samantha Jones and Rachel Lovegrove moved into their new home in Nottingham in 2002 and within weeks their next door neighbours, Liam and Lesley Ruth started major works to enlarge their house, both on the ground floor and by adding a third storey.
The work, which should have been completed within a year, instead dragged on for five, leaving Jones and Lovegrove to suffer from the resulting noise, dust, pollution and vibration. This does not include trespass by the Ruth’s, who erected scaffolding in their garden without permission, made holes in the gable end wall of Jones and Lovegrove’s property to insert purlins and caused substantial damage with the increased structural loads caused by the new third storey.
Jones and Lovegrove won their claim for nuisance and trespass, winning substantial damages; but what makes this case unusual is Samantha Jones also claimed damages for personal injury under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which she claimed had been caused by Mr Ruth and his family. Severe back pain brought on by anxiety and depression meant Ms Jones had been unable to work since 2005 and was receiving physiotherapy and counselling.
She claimed her anxiety was caused by the Ruth’s aggressive and intimidatory behaviour, their refusal to provide information on the progress of the work and ignoring repeated requests to reduce the noise and make good the damage they had caused – not to mention the abusive notes left by the Ruth’s concerning the same sex relationship of Jones and Lovegrove.
The judge agreed the behaviour was harassment and awarded Ms Jones £6,000 for distress and anxiety but ruled her injuries and loss of earnings were not foreseeable. The Court of Appeal disagreed, saying the judge had been wrong to apply negligence criteria to the claim. They said there was no requirement of “foreseeability” under the Protection from Harassment Act and awarded Ms Jones the full amount she had claimed.
“This judgment does not say that building works on their own will amount to harassment, but it does give comfort to people who are faced with extreme behaviour by a neighbour,” said Oxley and Coward’s property litigation partner, Mamoon Chaudhary.
“We have all heard stories about difficult and aggressive neighbours who refuse to put matters right and this judgment paves the way for them to be found guilty of harassment and forced to pay a very high price, whatever it may be. It’s important to keep neighbours in mind when buying a property. Asking if there have been any previous disputes is a standard question during the conveyancing process and if a seller doesn’t disclose any dispute, they will be in trouble for misrepresentation.”
For those homeowners who do not have the luxury of a moat around their property, this case shows they might be advised to build bridges with their neighbours and reach a constructive agreement first.
“If you do get involved with neighbours wanting to use part of your building for their own development, you need to find out what your rights are for any compensation and deal with it at the outset,” says Mamoon.