All night parties do not generally encourage amicable and cordial neighbourly relations. A selfish and inconsiderate neighbour can be stressful and upsetting, and often as a result, long suffering residents do not know which way to turn.
Most forms of neighbourly unpleasantness falls into the category of private nuisance. "Nuisance" is another category of "tort", or civil wrong, and it covers a range of matters which interfere with a property owner's use and enjoyment of his or her land, without necessarily involving physical damage or physical encroachment. Nuisance covers matters such as noise, smells, dust and vibration. A neighbouring owner who suffers from these has a right of action either for damages or for an injunction preventing continuation of the nuisance.
Earlier this year, two television personalities, Tess Daly and Vernon Kay, reportedly pulled out of the purchase of a £4m house in Buckinghamshire, sighting the intrusive helicopter noise from a nearby airfield as the reason. The sellers subsequently sought an injunction restricting the noise of the helicopters, or alternatively, £700,000 compensation from the airfield for the loss of the value of their home. The court issued an injunction against the airfield restricting it to only two 15-minute weekly training sessions close to the boundary of the property. This is an extreme example.
Private nuisance is generally caused by someone doing something on their own land, but the consequences of their act extending adversely to their neighbour's land - like, for example, loud music or an incessant barking dog.
When a neighbour is kept awake well into the early hours, his or her immediate concern is stopping the distressing actions. With noise complaints continually on the rise, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea now offer a dedicated Noise and Nuisance Service which aims to help residents suffering from these types of disturbances. This type of service aims to resolve noise complaints before the dispute intensifies. Unfortunately most local authorities may only intervene if a resident is able to demonstrate that the noise counts as a statutory nuisance, i.e. that which unreasonably and substantially interferes with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises.
Injunctions are also available as remedies for a nuisance, and in all but the most extreme examples the granting of an injunction should be enough for the objectionable action to stop.
There is also the possibility of obtaining damages. However, it is particularly difficult to assess the level of damages that would be awarded for a noise nuisance. The starting point is that damages should be paid to a person as compensation for loss, but if the nuisance is temporary there is no easy way to quantify the loss of enjoyment to a property. For example, how do you measure the loss when your neighbour's builder needs to drill now and again?
However, following complaints about the noise of extensive refurbishment work to the unlet parts of a commercial building in the recent case of Timothy Taylor Ltd v Mayfair House Corporation, the landlord was ordered to reduce the rent for one of its tenant by 20% for the period of the refurbishments and the court also invited the tenant to apply for an injunction should the disturbance get worse.
Homeowners are also often worried about the impact of any trouble of this type on the value of their home. Even if the actual property itself remains untouched, any formal dispute between neighbours must be disclosed in replies to enquiries. The existence of a dispute with a nuisance neighbour may well put off a purchaser, affect the value of the home or put the brakes on the transaction whilst the purchaser investigates the nature and extent of the dispute.
Even if you obtain an injunction, a purchaser might worry that your nuisance neighbour will continue nevertheless. Injunctions will usually be personal to the claimant, so if the neighbour does continue with the nuisance after the sale, the purchaser would have to apply for a fresh injunction, with the accompanying costs and stress.
The best advice of course is to develop an amicable relationship with all of your neighbours. Where that is not possible, the environmental services department of your local authority may be able to intervene. If all else fails, applying for an injunction is the remedy of last resort, coupled where appropriate with a claim for damages.
Edward Allan is a solicitor in the residential practice at law firm Boodle Hatfield. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.boodlehatfield.com for more information.