Dealing with Difficult Neighbours

Fransie Pienaar
Harcourts Dolphin Coast

“Good fences, they say, make good neighbours.”

As a property owner, you are entitled to enjoy, use or alter your property, in any way you please within the limits of state and local authority regulations.  Having knowledge of each other’s rights and obligations is the first step in establishing a good relationship with your neighbours and enjoying your rights to the full.

Overhanging Branches
The general principle governing overhanging branches is that you need to ask your neighbour to cut down his overhanging branches and remove them from your property.  If your request is refused, you may trim the branches that extend past the property line, but you must offer such branches to your neighbour. If the neighbour refuses to accept them, then you need to dispose of the branches yourself.

The approach we recommend:
Talk to your neighbour and provide each other with sufficient notice before cutting the branches.
Discuss who should attend to the cutting.
Reach a compromise on the disposal of the branches as well as the costs associated therewith.
Alternatively, you may force your neighbour to remove the offending branches by obtaining an interdict, compelling him or her to do so.

The root of the problem
If the roots from your neighbour’s tree continually block your drains, and you need a plumber to clear them, you are allowed to remove it. Please note that the roots can only be cut off on your side of the boundary. If you were to use poison on the roots, and the tree dies, the tree owner could claim compensation. Youre right to take action stops at the boundary line between your property and your neighbours’.

An apple never falls far from the tree
If you allow the overhanging branches to remain, you may not insist that your neighbour removes the leaves, flowers and fruit, which fall from those branches onto your property.
Any overhanging fruit or flowers belong to the tree owner, neighbours should ask before picking them.
There is no legal recourse when it comes to leaves.
Even if leaves blocking your gutters cause damage, you cannot claim damages.  You do have the right to trim overhanging branches up to the boundary line, provided it won’t harm the tree.
Leaves make fabulous compost – so please do not throw leaves back over the fence.

Storm Water Drainage
In general, a neighbour will not be responsible for damage to your property caused by runoff from naturally occurring rain and land conditions.  You are expected to protect your land from this water.  If your property however has been damaged because of the carelessness or negligence you may still be able to hold your neighbour liable.  Careless water damage is often the result of accidents and forgetfulness such as leaking taps or sprinkler heads or burst water pipes.

Noise and the law of nuisance.
Municipal by-laws govern disturbing noise.
So, if your neighbour’s kids are driving you nuts with their “doef-doef-doef” after 10:00 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday night, and they refuse to respond to your polite requests to tone it down, a visit from the SAPS will usually do the trick.

A noise nuisance on the other hand include barking dogs, loud music, arguing and shouting, banging doors or operating power tools.
If your neighbour’s incessant noise is driving you to distraction, the most practical and cost effective, way to deal with the problem would be to approach him directly and tactfully tell him of the problem.

If you do decide to take steps against your neighbour, you should begin by making a written complaint to your Local Authority.

Any building works:
The Building Standards and Building Regulations Act require that property owners must obtain municipal approval, in respect of all buildings, additions and renovations, no matter how small. With minor building works, a municipality may give written approval that the owner needs not obtain building permission.  Owners must be aware of building line for your property, which is usually 3m from the rear boundary and 2 m from your side boundary.  Building too close to neighbouring properties can lead to possible neighbour disputes and headaches down the line.


If you want good neighbours – start with being a good neighbour.
The truth is, you can’t control your neighbour, but you can be a good neighbour yourself and sometimes that makes all the difference in the world.

Live where you belong:  Seniors who have already raised a family may not be happy in a family-friendly neighbourhood with loud kids and flying soccer balls.

Introduce yourself. Consider bringing a plate of goodies or a plant for their garden. People are more likely to work with you to solve issues when you have established a relationship built on trust and mutual respect.

Head off problems before they become problems. When hosting a party or large gathering, notify your neighbours and ask about parking preferences. Give them your phone number; let them call you if there is a problem – instead of the police.

Respect property boundaries. Make sure trees or other plants are not growing over onto your neighbour’s property or blocking their view. If you are going to remove a tree, talk with your neighbour first. Keep fences in good repair.

Contain your animals to your property. Some people fear dogs and no one wants to clean up after someone else’s pet. A constantly barking dog is a sure way to irritate others.

Be Patient: If you do have a beef with your neighbour, wait at least 24 hours after an incident to raise the concern. That way your temper does not take over.

Choose your battles wisely:  Approach a potential conflict very carefully, consider holding off on complaining about an incident that happened just once. People screw up. It might not happen again.

Document the problem.  Start keeping notes – times, dates, and photos as proof of a neighbour’s ongoing offenses.  Looking at it on paper, you may realize it’s not as big a deal or you might see a solution.

Check with other neighbours. See if anybody else on the block is having similar issues. If one of the neighbours is closer to the troublemaker, have them come with you when you talk it out.

Talk it out. Tell your neighbour what’s bothering you – don’t assume they know what the problem is. Be open and direct, ask for their input, and propose a solution that demonstrates willingness to compromise. Stay cool and positive, even if they’re not.

If all else fails, talk to the qualified agents of Harcourts Dolphin Coast.  We will gladly list and sell your property and find you a new home far away from these problem neighbours.
Property is our business
People our passion
Harcourts Dolphin Coast has vacancies for Full Status Agents.  Contact us if you want to take your career to new heights.
032 946 2331

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