Psychological bullying by neighbours

When we live in close proximity to others, there are plenty of issues and disputes with which to contend: from overhanging trees and hedges, rights of way, party walls, noise, rubbish and recycling, smells and odours, shared facilities, fences and boundaries - the list is pretty extensive. Over and above this, you and your neighbours might have a general difference of opinion about what you consider to be reasonable behaviour and good standards of property maintenance.

If trying to resolve a situation yourself via reasonable means (i.e. a discussion or written communication) has not been fruitful, the next step to consider is mediation.

Mediation in neighbour disputes

Facilitated by a trained individual who is skilled at helping both sides come to an agreement or compromise, mediation provides an independent, impartial service enabling both parties to put forward their points of view. There may be fees involved for this type of service but in general, this is a cheaper option than seeking legal help.

In the majority of cases, these issues can be resolved but sometimes, despite best efforts, in some instances the issue tips over and those next door begin to be a bully, act aggressively or obnoxiously and the experience of living with such misbehaviour is both distressing and frustrating.

Bullying and harassment are also not always immediately obvious. This sort of behaviour can be fairly subtle or innocuous to begin with but if the occasional incident becomes more regular or more offensive, it is important to know where you stand from a legal perspective.

The Protection From Harassment Act 1997

The part of the law that we are dealing with here is the Protection From Harassment Act 1997 and it is the way that victims of dispute, abuse, and psychological bullying by neighbours are protected.

Harassment can take many forms from face-to-face physical or verbal threats to emails, letters, and calls. Any conduct that causes nuisance (this is a legal concept with a meaning more profound than the usual one) distress or harm can be stopped by court order. A solicitor can advise on the possibility and the detail of taking civil action in the Sheriff's Court against your neighbours, even to the extent of interdicting them from further harassment.

Interdict is the Scottish equivalent of the English injunction – it is an order forcing someone to stop unlawful behaviour on pain of punishment if not obeyed.

Facts and evidence

Any court action by you against the neighbours’ harassment is primarily about facts and evidence. The more additional direct witnesses the better in terms of proving your case if the neighbour denies his or her action. But if you don’t have anyone other than yourself to back up your account of events then you are at a disadvantage every time, so feel free to use cameras, mobile phones, digital doorbells, other forms of electronic recording – and your own eye-witness testimony.

Write down everything that happens, perhaps as a journal so you can remember the dates and sequence of events, and/or make videos of the neighbour, with yourself describing what is going on. You are entitled to film and record other people on your property and in a public space. So as long as you do not point cameras into someone else’s window, you should have scope to gather useable evidence to back up your case.

Using criminal law in the case of neighbour disputes

Secondly, you can also use the criminal law. Threats of violence, setting a dog on you, vandalism of your property or garden, all these and more may be criminal offences and should be reported to the police. They may charge your neighbour or just initially question them. There is no certainty they will end up in the cells or in court, but if you do not report this kind of intolerable behaviour then it will likely continue with the individual emboldened by their apparent freedom to act.

Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO)

A third route (these are not mutually exclusive remedies) is to alert the local authority and report anti-social behaviour. Most councils have dedicated teams to deal with this kind of trouble and can take positive action, even to the extent of issuing an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO), though they may initially try mediation and talking informally to the neighbour.

Alternatively, and this is by no means the easy option, you may choose to move house. This is easier said than done if you own the home or are in social housing but if you are in private rental accommodation, choosing a new property when your rental agreement comes to an end, might be the better option.

It’s important to remember that if you do own the property and you wish to sell, you will need to disclose any disputes with neighbours. Moving isn’t cowardly or any admittance of wrongdoing on your part, it may just be the more practical and pragmatic approach.

With the right legal support, however, your solicitor should be able to put various measures in place that mean you and your neighbours can peacefully coexist without feeling forced out of your own home.

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