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But if data from our Legal Helpline is to be believed, that sense of goodwill didn’t last long.
During lockdown we saw a 40-50% increase in the number of property dispute claims being handled by our team, some months even saw a 175% uplift from pre-Covid levels. That’s a significant number of calls relating to disputes over noise, neighbour nuisance, and boundary disputes for instance.
We believe a combination of factors contributed to this increase in claims.
Firstly, proximity. During lockdown people were confined to their homes for extended periods, especially during the early months of social restriction when people’s lives shrunk to their homes and gardens.
Throughout this time, with few distractions and severely reduced external stimuli, people became more finely attuned to the small things they observed around their homes. Have the people upstairs always been so loud? Have the couple next door always parked their car on our side of the drive? Has the neighbour’s leylandii always blocked out this much light? Things that may have gone unnoticed throughout our busy lives suddenly came into sharp focus leading to tension.
The second factor is time. Once the furlough scheme was launched, many people suddenly had a lot more spare time on their hands. There was, for many, an opportunity to undertake home improvements and refurbishments that they may have been putting off for a while, or simply to give themselves a project to focus on. These projects can often spark party wall disputes between neighbours that need expert help to resolve peacefully.
These two factors, when combined with the frustration, anger and misery experienced by people during a time of high anxiety, led to tensions rising and minor gripes between neighbours boiling over into disputes and a resultant increase in the need for legal support and guidance.
It has undoubtedly been a very difficult twenty-one months for many people but thankfully we are starting to see these claims numbers return to pre-Covid levels. When it comes to disputes between neighbours, we would much rather support our clients to settle disputes peacefully through mediation rather than go to Court; the lasting fallout of such a case can be unpleasant and lead to tensions long after settlement has been reached.
Be considerate as to noise, especially when living in a flat. You might enjoy the surround sound on your TV, but your neighbours probably won’t.
Consider consulting with a Party Wall surveyor to check that a notice doesn’t need to be served on your neighbour if you are undertaking structural works or building an extension on your property.
Before extending your property or erecting a feature in the garden, seek advice as to whether there are any covenants in your deeds that might allow your neighbour to protest about your works.
Think about how any works on your property could affect your neighbours. For example:
Before replacing fencing, make sure your neighbour agrees that it is your right to do so and see that they are satisfied with the positioning of the new fence. Be sure the posts are in the same line as previous, if it is impossible to use the existing postholes.
Don’t paint your side of someone else’s fence without permission.
Make sure any hedges or shrubbery on the boundary are well maintained so that they do not encroach onto your neighbours property.
If you have concern that trees or vegetation on your neighbours land could cause damage to your property or garden, put them on notice verbally and in writing at the earliest opportunity. It is usually the case that a claim for damage can only be made if your neighbour is aware that you consider the trees to be a risk.
Always contact a neighbour before cutting back any overhanging branches/encroaching roots.
Avoid undertaking work that could affect your neighbour whilst they are on holiday.
Bear in mind that it is not usual for the legal costs of a property dispute to exceed £100,000. Do not let disputes escalate and ensure that if there is the risk of dispute that you seek early legal advice.
Our Family Legal Protection insurance provides our customers with expert legal advice and cover up to £100,000 for legal costs for a wide range of issues such as consumer disputes, employment disputes, personal injury and property matters including:
Rebecca Conway, Chief Legal Officer, Arc Legal Assistance
To find out more about Family Legal Protection, please contact your Corporate Relations Manager or email [email protected].