Everybody needs good neighbours
Living next door doesn’t mean you’ll always be the best of buddies, but nobody wants a stressful fall-out, says LUKE RIXSTANDING
NEIGHBOURS often rank up there with the in-laws on the list of people it’s really useful to get on with. You live literally side-byside - but just as with the inlaws, that doesn’t mean you automatically get on. So what are neighbours battling over, and how should you handle a dispute with a tricky neighbour? We talked to Dr Mike Talbot, CEO of conflict resolution experts UK Mediation, for his thoughts on the matter...
CAUSES OF CONCERN
NOISE complaints frequently rank among the most common cause of neighbour irritation, particularly during summer with children off school, outdoor DIY projects, sizzling barbecues, and long evenings out on the patio all taking place. Boundary issues involving shared spaces or fences also commonly cause consternation. “Plants come up quite a lot,” says Mike. “If my neighbour’s plant is growing through my fence, and I cut it off or lay down weedkiller, in their eyes I might have killed their plant.” The hardest issues to resolve involve lifestyle – fundamental behaviours that residents are unwilling to change. “Cooking smells can be contentious,” says Mike. “Plus late-night parties, drinking or smoking cannabis in the garden – especially when the neighbours are of a more conservative disposition.” If required, remember that your local council has a duty to investigate so-called ‘statutory nuisances’ – any disturbances that could be damaging to a citizen’s health.
BUILD A RELATIONSHIP
“WE’RE less inclined to know our neighbours these days,” says Mike, “so sometimes your first conversation with your neighbour is when you’ve got a dispute.” Even an occasional ‘hello’ in the driveway helps build some sort of rapport, which can give you invaluable credit when you need to raise an issue. Not knowing your neighbour also means you’re less likely to pipe up when you first have a problem, which allows resentment to build and fester. Mike says it’s the number one problem he encounters: “If you wait ‘til you’re really annoyed, you can’t disguise your anger. The other person will then feel attacked and lash back, and that’s when things can go to a really bad place.”
MIND YOUR MANNERS
WHEN you do need to go knocking, pick an appropriate time, and, without meaning to patronise, play nice. “Don’t go round at 10 o’clock when you’ve had a can of something,” says Mike, “and be prepared to take a conciliatory approach.” If you’re really nervous, you could write your neighbour a note, or where appropriate go through their landlord – but it’s generally best to at least start with face-toface. “I always say listen first,” continues Mike. “Speak to your neighbour and see what their take is – there’s often a good reason and you want to let them know you’re taking that into account before putting across your perspective. Collaborate with your neighbour to take on the problem, rather than taking on your neighbour ‘as’ the problem.” Be particularly cautious when discussing the behaviour of unruly children, as even an implied slight on someone’s parenting will generally go down like a pint of warm beer. You’re trying to come to a consensus, so however stuckup/ irresponsible you consider your neighbour to be, try to keep value judgements to yourself.
THE LETTER OF THE LAW
WE were going to run through the legal specs you might need for different situations, but it’s complex, scenario-specific, and not something you want to get involved in if you can help it. It also might not work. While informal methods like mediation emphasise compromise, in law there’s often a winner and a loser, and formal settlements will show on the deeds.
Banging on a wall and shouting is not the best way to contact your neighbour about noise
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