How to avoid the pain of a neighbourly dispute

You may have lived on the same tree-lined street for a generation. You may have your neighbours over for a festive glass of sherry for Christmas. Your children may walk to school together and you hold one anothers spare key. But no matter how well you get on with your neighbours, disputes can, and do, arise when completing a home improvement project.

Perhaps it’s a prehistoric territorial survival gene kicking or the surfacing of latent festering animosity, or even a case of the green-eyed monster blowing a whole through your suburban paradise, but all too often neighbours fall out over insubstantial issues during a build, and the emotional anguish that follows can be painfully draining on the soul.

Over the years we’ve witnessed all manner of squabbles play out across the garden fence. Fortunately the pattern of objections raised is predictable and therefore can be mitigated. So here are 9 insider hacks to avoiding the pain of a neighbourly dispute during a home improvement project.

  1. Preempt Party Wall

The single most important tip to avoiding a neighbourly dispute is to attend to party wall matters early and completely. Not only will it secure buy-in from the adjoining neighbours from the outset but could also save you thousands in the long run against malicious claims. You can read more here.

  1. Protect against malicious claims

Even if your neighbour hasn’t asked for it, commission a Schedule of Condition to be produced by a qualified Surveyor. A Schedule of Condition is much the same as an inventory report of the adjoining property. It will list, describe and photograph any pre-existing issues the property suffers from. It protects your interests as much as theirs, so the Jones’ next door can’t blame you for the crack in the chimney breast they’ve been starring at since 1982.

  1. Don’t work noisy after 1pm on Saturdays

Most people (builders included, sorry brethren but it’s true) are unaware of the 1974 Control of Pollution Act. The Act prohibits noisy work after 1pm on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays. This is a sensible rule ensuring folks can enjoy some quiet time over the weekend when they are at home. Builders will want to work the whole day as the multiple tradesmen on site will demand a full day’s pay irrespective of the what the law states. Though a project managed efficiently will produce a work schedule that keeps the trades happy as well as the neighbours.

  1. Respect the Street

Ask your Builder to show some decorum through the site. Cover up skips with tarpaulin overnight to prevent the inevitable appearance of crushed Stella cans in the morning; don’t position the skip outside the neighbouring property; hose down the pavement each evening and pay a little extra for sheet hoarding around the scaffold. Lots of small steps that your neighbour may not thank you for, but would certainly have piped up about in their absence.

  1. Be generous

On some projects, it is inevitable that the neighbours will be inconvenienced to some extent on account of ongoing works (such as wheelie bins being displaced to accommodate the scaffolding, drilling noise and so forth). If so, offer up a decent bottle of Prosecco or perhaps some of your home-made Shepherd’s Pie to offset their inconvenience. You’ll be amazed how far this small gesture will go.

  1. Bullet proof yourself

Some of you will have the misfortune of living next to the Victor Meldrew types who just revel being busy bodies. Should Victor decide to stick his nose where it is not wanted, the best course of action is to use third party authority, ask them to speak to the builder, and let them sound off. After all they cannot argue with someone who is not in the room. After sounding off, they’ll likely just retire back to their cave to enjoy a hot cup of coco with their Readers Digest, and you will have maintained a cool and calm veneer.

  1. Nip it in the bud

Even if you hire the most gentlemanly of Builders, any home improvement project carries a small risk of the unexpected and sometimes things can go off-plan. Should this happen the objective is to correct course immediately. For instance let’s say you were converting the loft and the scaffolding has just gone up. But in the process the presence, all that steel has just thrown-off your neighbour’s satellite signal. Now their senses will already be on a heightened state of alert whilst you carry out the building work, so not being able to enjoy their daily dose of Eastenders will almost certainly upset them. Jump on it straight away and get the local TV ariel guy over to reinstate the signal. Problem solved for the cost of a call-out, and you’ll have gone a heck of a long way in getting bonus brownie points with the neighbour too. Nip problems in the bud before they needlessly escalate.

  1. Respect privacy

If there is one thing that will upset the neighbours as a nailed-on cert, it is the fear that their privacy is being compromised. Now their fundamental privacy rights are protected in large part by planning rules and permitted development guidelines, meaning your new extension or conversion shan’t be overlooking Mr Meldrew as he dresses in his sweat bands for hot yoga.

However there are additional measures you can take reduce the friction caused by a perceived intrusion of privacy. Firstly within the plans, position any windows to overlook your own garden where possible. So if you’re carrying out an L-section loft conversion, have the outrigger window point to the rear face as opposed to looking over the lean-to. Secondly during the build, have your Builder pay a little extra and fit tarpaulin screening across the scaffold perimeter. That way there’s no chance of overlooking the neighbours whilst work is going on.

  1. Working on the boundary

If you happen to be completing grounds works with new walls that touch the boundary line, it is likely there will be some spillover of activity to the neighbouring garden. If so, ask your Builder to cordon off the section of their garden they will working in with stands and sheeting (I am assuming you’ve observed the advice re Party Wall already). Then proceed to work within the cordoned off area. If you’ve unavoidably flattened Mrs Jones’ prize petunias, perhaps a voucher to the garden centre wouldn’t go amiss.

So there you have it. Observe these 9 hacks and you will have every chance of sailing through your home improvement whilst maintaining cordial neighbourly relations.

City Lofts London


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