When buying a house, one of the few things that can’t be assessed and inspected before purchasing are the neighbours. It’s a real lottery and the lucky few will hit the jackpot, with friendly supportive neighbours who become lifelong friends. Others however may not be so lucky and finding diplomatic ways to resolve neighbourhood disputes can be challenging, but there is help available.
Everybody Needs Good Neighbours
It’s always a good idea to pop next door and introduce yourself to the neighbours when you first move in - not only so that you have a friendly starting point to resolve disputes, but also because becoming part of your local community starts with the neighbours. There’s nothing worse than a new neighbour who moves in and immediately complains to the existing residents - who may have been there for years - about their daily activities. When you’re the new kid on the block, it’s a good idea to give yourself a couple of months to settle in and get a sense of the local noise and activity. Everything will seem louder and more pronounced initially until you get used to the atmosphere of your new neighbourhood. It also gives you time to get to know your neighbours on either side as well as in other parts of the street. A simple wave as someone’s leaving their driveway, or checking the mailbox, creates familiarity and provides an opportunity for you to strike up a conversation when the moment is right. Casual chats in the street with the neighbours can provide important information that will give you history and context around something you suspect might be an issue for others as well.
Get Informed and Act Locally First
It’s a good idea to educate yourself on local laws with relation to residential living, so you have them in mind when you talk to your neighbour, rather than complaining to them about something they are completely within their right to do. Some of the most common and easily resolved disputes relate to the general environment such as noise, parking, rubbish and pets. Issues such as neighbours who are renovating, or a new pet or baby that is whining or crying constantly will probably have an end in sight, so patience on your part may be the best strategy. The first step is to get a balanced perspective on the issue and then approach your neighbours if possible, to discuss solutions. They may be oblivious to the fact that their dog barks all day while they are at work and you can address this to them by saying something like “I’m concerned about your pet, they seem quite distressed”.
Your local council will already have structures in place regarding noise, parking and waste removal for example and a quick call to them will point you in the right direction for further advice or support. For noise complaints, they may direct you to your local Environment Protection Authority (EPA). The EPA has clear guidelines about construction noise cut-off times, motor vehicle and public transport noise management, residential noise limits and entertainment venue noise. Parking bylaws are usually handled by local councils and they will also connect you with the right department for waste management issues.
Most suburbs have a local party house – often a rental - with a high volume of visitors, loud music, an excessive number of cars parking in the street and on the nature strip. Then you wake the next morning to the greatest neighbourhood sin of all –they’ve used the neighbours’ rubbish bins because theirs are full. Inevitably, other neighbours in the street will also have issues with this behaviour, and if it’s a rental property the issue can be quickly solved with a call to the property manager. If it’s not a rental then again – refer to the EPA laws or contact your local council for advice.
Living and Growing in Neighbourly Harmony
Generally, boundaries are joint property so neighbours often experience issues related to things that appear on these boundaries. Fencing issues are common such as repairing a damaged fence, or upgrading to a new fence. Other joint property issues involve drainage, water supply and vegetation such as vines or trees overhanging from one property boundary to the other. Planning regulations should be considered where these issues are concerned (for example fences have height restrictions) and if breached, the local council can help. If no planning regulations are being breached and the dispute has become unresolvable between you and your neighbour, you can make a general inquiry with your local Magistrate’s Court, who can then advise you about the next steps.
Neighbourhood disputes should be easy to resolve, however, in many cases they are not and can end up being quite stressful and frustrating. If talking directly to your neighbours has not helped, the next step is your local council who may be able to give you an advice on making a formal complaint. The difficulties you are experiencing may have been shared by others and complaints may already have been made. There may be resolution strategies underway which will streamline the process of solving a problem for you. If the problem is beyond Council’s capacity, they may refer you to a dispute settlement centre, or a community justice centre, who can help mediate the issue and guide you towards a resolution. Services such as the Australian Disputes Centre may also be useful.