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How to love thy neighbour; ..or at least avoid a court battle over a high hedge or spate of late-night DIY.

Byline: By BARRY CASHIN

NEIGHBOURS, everybody needs good neighbours, goes the Aussie soap opera's theme tune.

But just as the fictional residents of Ramsay Street are always falling out, getting on well with your real-life neighbours can be the exception rather than the rule. In Britain today, we often don't know our neighbours' names, let alone speak to them.

And even when we do know them, we don't always get on. Almost six million complaints were made about nuisance neighbours to environmental health departments last year, while the Noise Abatement Society reported a 28 per cent increase in garden noise complaints last summer.

A survey by Abbey found that 4.5million people actually moved home to escape their neighbours from hell.

Neighbours can argue about anything. A study by the Halifax found a quarter of disputes were about noise, 14pc about boundaries, 11pc about pets and 10pc involved parking. Anti-social behaviour caused 8pc of rows, and tree disputes 7pc.

When you to do want to move - whether to escape the neighbours or not - a previous or continuing dispute can ruin your chances of selling.

Colin Kemp, managing director of Halifax, says: "Any formal disputes have to be declared on a Sellers' Property Information Form. Ensuring good neighbourly relations is always prudent - that way unpleasant situations can be prevented."

'We used new law on hedges'

MARK and Rose Davies have been in their home in Surrey since 1991... and in dispute with neighbours over a high hedge since 1999.

Rose, 54, says: "The year before that they planted a row of conifers. It grew to three to four metres. We asked them twice to trim it back but they refused - in fact they planted a second row.

"We wrote to them but they still did nothing, and it was only later that we found out the hedges were to screen a proposed new housing development they wanted on their land.

"When new laws on high hedges came in we were advised by a group called Hedgeline and we were able to force the neighbour to trim the first row."

As with many disputes, there is a different take on the situation from the neighbours, the Pullens. They claim the Davies have used the existence of the hedge to win permission for some building of their own.

Gillian Pullen says: "The Davies's dispute is with the council. The hedge has a Tree Preservation Order on it and Mr and Mrs Davies received planning permission in 2002 for an extension, claiming privacy between the two properties was maintained by this five-metre Leylandii hedge.

"This was upheld by the Planning Inspectorate in 2006 with their decision that the hedge should be maintained at a maximum height of 4.3 metres."

MOST COMMON DISPUTES WITH NEXT DOOR.. AND WHAT THE LAW SAYS YOU CAN DO

Hedges

CUPRESSOCYPARIS Leylandii - music to the ears of forest lovers but a curse for families who live in darkness thanks to their neighbours' rampant conifers. According to action group Hedgeline, more than 1,500 complaints were made to councils in the year up to August 2007 - leading to 700 ASBOs.

WHAT TO DO: If your neighbour's high hedge blocks your light, ask them politely to cut it down to a reasonable height - normally about two metres. If they refuse, ask your council if the problem falls within High Hedges legislation which was passed a couple of years ago. If the neighbour still won't trim the hedge and it is deemed a nuisance, they can be served with an ASBO.

HELP: Hedgeline is on the net at http://freespace.virgin.net/clare.h/

Noise

YOU'VE put the kids to bed and settled down to watch TV when Mr DIY next door decides to start drilling. OK if it's a one-off, but what if he thinks he's Handy Andy and the noise makes your life a misery? Or if he plays loud music day and night?

WHAT TO DO: Talk first and, if this fails, contact the council's environmental department. Keep a noise diary of dates, times and the type of noise. If the council says it is a statutory nuisance, they can serve an abatement notice with a penalty of up to pounds 5,000. If the neighbour is a tenant, contact their landlord or housing association. Frequent offenders can be evicted.

HELP: www.noisedirect.co.uk

Trees & roots

A PLEASURE to look at - but not if next-door's branches overhang your side or the roots damage your patio.

WHAT TO DO: You are allowed to cut back any branch overhanging the boundary or any root which crosses it.

However, these are still your neighbour's property so you must offer to return them. Check first with the council to see if any Tree Preservation Orders are in force.

HELP: www.gardenlaw.co.uk

Boundaries

YOUR neighbours replace a fence and take the opportunity to take over a foot of your land. What are your rights?

WHAT TO DO: In law, the neighbour must follow the existing boundary. Tell them to reinstate the fence along the correct boundary line. If they refuse, you have the right to reasonably remove it. With stubborn neighbours, a lawyer's letter usually does the trick.

HELP: www.boundary-problems.co.uk

Party walls

WORK affecting a wall between two homes falls under the Party Wall Act 1996, which carries specific obligations to affected neighbours.

WHAT TO DO: If a neighbour carries out major work on a party wall without proper notice, ask them to stop and get a party-wall agreement for you to sign. If they refuse, contact your council's planning department and find a solicitor who can write to them.

HELP: The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors helpline (0870 333 1600) gives up to 30 minutes of free advice.

Straying pets

IF next door's dog poops on your veg plot, it's officially a nuisance. But their cats can do as they please, because they are classed as feral.

WHAT TO DO: Mention the problem to the neighbour and ask them to keep the pet under control. Ideally, ensure your garden is dog-proof.

Anti-social behaviour

RESEARCH by Abbey says half a million households suffer damage from unruly neighbours every year. This adds up to more than pounds 90million - or pounds 172 per home. Anti-social behaviour includes vandalism, graffiti, litter and intimidation.

WHAT TO DO: Handling things badly could stack up trouble for years. Consider installing covert CCTV to record evidence. For minor infractions, contact your local council.

Driveways

MANY owners of semis with shared or adjoining driveways think they can encroach on the other half. Neither neighbour has the right to park on a shared drive, nor a to store dustbins or anything else that obstructs a neighbour's right of way.

WHAT TO DO: Talk to your neighbour, if necessary showing them the deeds that prove the driveway is shared. If this fails, get in touch with a solicitor.

HOW TO DEAL WITH YOUR PROBLEM NEIGHBOURS

STEP 1 - TALK: The greatest chance of resolving issues is to talk first. In most disputes there isn't actually a law being broken. It is usually a case of two clashing lifestyles.

STEP 2 - WRITE: If a civil word doesn't work, a polite but assertive letter can do the trick. Keep the letter brief and to the point. Do not use emotive language or make any kind of threats. Outline what steps you would like your neighbour to consider taking and suggest mediation if they don't agree (see How To Get More Help). Keep a copy of your letter.

STEP 3 - CALL IN THE PROFESSIONALS: If nothing else works contact the local environmental health office (if appropriate) or get a solicitor to send a letter.

STEP 4 - TAKE LEGAL ACTION: This should always be a last resor t. Some solici tors specialise in neighbour disputes and offer advice on their range of services.

HOW TO GET MORE HELP

Who owns the land or property? To find out who the legal owner of a nearby house or plot of land is - or where the boundary line is supposed to run - look up the Land Registry website at www.landregistry.gov.uk - it costs pounds 2 per entry.

Specialist organisations: Neighbours from Hell in Britain (www.nfh.org.uk) is an online group dedicated to helping people deal with nuisance neighbours.

Mediation services: Often the best way to resolve issues before resorting to the courts. Free local mediation services can provide a neutral venue and impartiality. To find a local service go online to www.adrnow.org.uk

'An action group called Hedgeline were a huge help to us when the people next door planted two rows of very tall conifers'

CAPTION(S):

Dispute... Mark and Rose Davies; The Davies' family home in Surrey... with giant trees on the left; You don't have to suffer abuse over the fence; You can act on nuisance dogs... but not cats; You don't have to put up with constant din; Pictures: ROY FISHER/PA/ALAMY
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 20, 2008
Words:1497
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