The summer heat often serves to bring simmering neighbourly disputes to boiling point. The government wants to give anti-social behaviour laws more bite, but what can be done now if you've fallen out with them next door?
By Ryan Dilley
BBC News Online
"When I pass his house, he comes out and waves a sledgehammer at me," says Bob [not his real name], who has been battling with his neighbour over a disputed fence from more than a year.
"It has made my life a bloody hell," he says, reflecting on a feud during which, he alleges, his opponent next door has assaulted him several times - even inflicting bite wounds on one occasion.
"The very first time I brought up the subject of the fence with him, he started swearing and within 20 seconds told me to take him to court if I didn't like it."
How to deal with trouble next door
Talk to your neighbour. Make notes about your complaint, so that you don't forget any of the things you want to say.
Take someone with you if you are concerned about your safety, or take a mobile phone and tell someone where you are going.
Write a letter to your neighbour, outlining your concerns. This can also later be shown to the authorities to prove you have tried to tackle the problem.
Record incidents in a daily log.
Go to your local authority. If your council cannot help, you may have to take private legal action.
Ask the Citizens' Advice Bureau and a lawyer for guidance.
Source: Neighbours from Hell in Britain
Though not all breakdowns in neighbourly communication are quite as acute as that suffered by Bob - he also alleges his neighbour tried to nudge his car off a busy road - the summer heat can bring a particular chill to relations over the garden fence.
"In the warm weather, we do get an increase in complaints about noise because people open their windows. There are also more problems with children playing inappropriately in gardens and on the streets," says David Clifton, who leads a team of local authority mediators in Birmingham.
Summer can bring unwelcome wafts of barbeque smoke or the stench of decomposing household or pet waste from next door's garden.
The heat also stokes the flames of the daddy of neighbourly bust-ups by increasing the growth of trees and hedges which overhang property boundaries or cast their shadows over adjoining houses.
Since May, at least two men have died in violent arguments about disputed hedges - with one man suffering a heart attack after a fistfight allegedly erupted and 66-year-old George Wilson being shot in a quiet Lincoln street following years of argument with his neighbour.
You haven't got to be friends, just don't fight
Members of Parliament are so concerned about the issue of hedges, that they are grappling with the complexities of drafting legislation on the subject.
"Not only do they cause bitter, long-running disputes between neighbours, damaging people's health and happiness, but they damage people's enjoyment of their gardens - one of the principal pleasures of our lives in the United Kingdom," said Wirral MP Ben Chapman in the week after the shooting of Mr Wilson.
The government has also just closed consultation on a proposal to fine nuisance neighbours and dock the money from any state benefits the person might receive. Anti-social neighbours who do not qualify for such payments could see fines deducted directly from their salaries.
While many warring neighbours would like to see the local authorities, police and courts wade into the fray - backing their side of the quarrel, of course - David Clifton says that up to 95% of disputes could be resolved with a calm exchange of words.
"We can't mediate where there is violence or where a person just will not talk about the problem. But in most cases we can help one side understand why their neighbour does what they do and explain to that neighbour what effect their behaviour has on the complainant."
Mr Clifton says many bickering neighbours don't even bother to discuss their concerns with one another before turning to the authorities and if they do "the first exchange is an angry exchange of words".
Neighbourly disputes can dredge up powerful territorial emotions from the primordial depths of the human soul and kind words to the adversary next door may stick in the throats of many.
"It's not about neighbours becoming the best of friends," says Mr Clifton. "It's enough that you just don't fight with each other anymore and that each one can realise that we're all different and live our lives in different ways."
Add your comments, using the form below.
What's needed is almost a people's charter of what we can expect from each other as good neighbours and some recourse when this is proved to have been broken. Is it really right that an old lady of 80 is expected to confront a teenager over their noise and no-one supports her until she gets injured (if then) - local councils and police don't want to know, with councils failing to penalise tenants who cause problems
Fiona Jarvis, Boxgrove, Chichester
The problem is that solutions are based on the premise that both sides are capable of being 'normal' and sensible. I have had a dispute with my neighbours for years. They virtually live outside in the garden, go to bed at 7pm and rise at 4am (all year round), have a fortress mentality and a Jack Russell terrier that barks at the slighest cue. You can't negotiate with nutters. The only choice is to use lawyers to prove you mean what you say.
Legislation on hedges? That would do wonders with regards to Neighbourly disputes... I don't think! It may be bad enough trying to convince your neighbour to help out with the maintenance of a hedge, so I don't imagine they would be to chuffed if you started waiving legislation and law at them.
Andrew C, Birmingham
The last time I ventured out into my garden during the recent lovely weather I was met with no less than seven different competing types of music, a neighbour constantly drilling and a serious domestic argument going on next door... oh the joys of city living! Why can't people be more sensitive to the noise levels they produce?
Angela Johnson, Bristol
Our neighbours on the one side are generally nice people but we have to suffer their teenage kids and their friends. During this hot weather, they have barbeques which in themselves I have no quarell with. What annoys me is that the smokers amongst them don't care if they flick their cigarrette butts over our fence. We find it disgusting, especially as we don't smoke. We now just collect them up and throw them back when they are out!
Nice Neighbour, Midlands, UK
I had terrible neighbours underneath me who used to argue a lot and repeatedly slam doors, if they weren't playing loud music that is. I eventually talked to them and they seemed quite embarrassed that I could hear every word of their arguments and I wasn't bothered too much again. I think many people are unaware that they are being noisy. A friendly, assertive word should be enough. But that may not always be the case.
It would be nice if " a calm exchange of words" could help those who are clearly unable to understand that putting their sub-woofer speakers on their bedroom window sill and then playing heavy metal for hours at a time might be upsetting to their neighbours, but I doubt it. Something to bring up in citizenship classes for our children maybe but in the meantime for the problems we're now facing, a visit by the police and a financial penalty might help re-introduce a social conscience.
I regularly ask my neighbours if I make too much noise, as I dont wish to upset them with my home cinema system, and conversely I have no problems with them. Its all about being considerate for other people, something thats rarely considered important these days it would seem.
Peter Edmondson, Coventry
I noticed one morning that my neighbour had halved the height of the trees between our gardens from about 9 feet to about 4. He had simply half cut and then snapped off the trunks of what was a neat box hedge made of connifers. The trees will never re-grow and the cost to me to replant would be thousands and then years to wait for them to grow. The trees are in my garden and on my side of the fence. He had to reach into my garden to do this. I have to say that I was livid - way out of control and had he been at home there is no doubt in my mind I would have reacted with fury. As it was, I had to go at exactly that moment away on business for a week. I left a note saying that he must explain to me why he had done it and that he must not touch anything in my garden again. When I returned he said sorry and I genuinely believe he didn't realise he was doing something wrong. And so I left it at that - he being a poor family man would mean depriving his children of something if I ! were to sue. I have to say though,- even months after the event, every time I look at the mess he has made I could cheerfully ring his neck - on hotter days more than cooler ones.
I feel a lot of disturbances are more to do with insecurity and attention seeking individuals rather than unknowingly disturbing the neigbours. Where I live people shout every other word for attention. Playing loud music and having loud parties in the heat of summer is just an extension of this. It's a classic case of fear, frustration and wanting to be noticed.
I sympathise with SB, I have had to sleep with my window closed every night, as my charming next door neighbour thinks that turning his television on at full blast at 3.00 and 5.45 in the morning is conducive to a good night's sleep for me. I am too tired now to have a calm conversation with him.
Trouble is, where do you draw the line? A little noise and disruption is fine, you have to expect it, especially in this weather. The problem is those delicate, sad individuals who have nothing better to do than complain, and there are far to many of them in my opinion. Whatever happened to tolerance?
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