Love thy neighbour...but it's so hard

Love thy neighbour...but it's so hard

We all have them. And you either love them or hate them. Terence Pillay looks at bad neighbours.


A friend of mine calls me up on a daily basis asking if I could name and shame her neighbours on one of my various media platforms. While the stories of her bad neighbours are quite entertaining, it is after all a private matter and I can’t get involved. Her latest, in a series of over-the-fence arguments involved the cutting of branches from her neighbour’s tree that hung over her electric fence, damaging it.

I see her point. If you have planted or arrived on a property with a tree that borders your neighbour’s property then you should be responsible for trimming the branches that hang over. Your neighbour didn’t ask for this and shouldn’t be saddled with what can be an extremely expensive exercise of getting rid of the unwanted branches. Besides, given the inclement weather that destroyed so much of Durban recently, my friend says it is an absolute wonder that the branches didn’t break off and destroy her roof. But it did damage her electric fencing, which cost a fortune to repair, she says. 

This is not an uncommon problem. I receive quite a few emails every week with complaints of bad neighbours. And while most make for nothing more than entertaining reading, there are some serious problems out there. In fact, South African law makes provision to deal with “neighbour issues” in the Nuisance Law.

According to legal experts, Nuisance Law dealing with neighbour issues is quite broad because it deals with a variety of offences, but they do have a few main areas of concern – nuisance and encroachment being at the top of the list. ‘Noise Nuisance,’ which is “a subjective measure and is defined as any noise that disturbs or impairs or may disturb or impair the convenience or peace of any person” is something many people experience.

So when your neighbour is watching a rugby match on his veranda with twenty five of his closest friends in the middle of the night, all drinking and shouting profanity (both at the screen and each other), you have recourse. You can invoke the “Noise Nuisance” chapter of Nuisance Law or invoke the municipal by-laws that govern this act. One would think that you might be able to just call over the fence and ask them to pipe down, but more often than not an argument ensues and sometimes can get violent and dangerous.

So perhaps there’s something to be said of the old adage “good fences make good neighbours”. But in the case of the overhanging branch into my friend’s property, the question is: whose responsibility is it? According to the law, your property rights begin and end at the boundaries of your property. This simply means that you can trim away the branches up to your boundary line if your neighbour refuses to do this. And if he refuses to dispose of what’s been cut, then you can have the cuttings disposed of and present your neighbour with the bill, which he will have to pay. The last resort however is to compel your neighbour to trim his tree with a court interdict.

In my friend’s case, after many heated arguments, the tree was trimmed and peace was restored. But the trimmed tree now meant she could see into her neighbour’s yard, and in a twist of irony, she saw her old lawn furniture that she left on the kerb to be taken away by the removers she organised, sitting in her neighbour’s yard!

Animals also make for potential conflict between neighbours. I remember my neighbour’s dogs making their way on to my property through a hole in the fence and doing its duty on my lawn. The dogs had clearly made the hole in the fence but my neighbour was adamant that it was not his responsibility! So I just instructed the gardener to clear the dog duty and fling it over the fence.

I put the subject of this discussion out on Facebook last night and got an overwhelming response. Here is a smattering of the comments:
“My neighbours are the worst! Constantly inebriated, tenants in and out like the property is a revolving door, family throw downs like it's New Year's eve every eve. It's a jungle out here! But I'm really nosey and I have no skaam so I'll be drying my dishes on the deck and listening on like it's no one's business - especially not mine!”
“My neighbours top all of yours. Stoners with a fetish for night golf in the house while listening to drum and bass at 2am. And they howl”
“Yes I am a bad neighbour because my dog use to pee on my neighbour’s flowers”
“My neighbour is always putting his head over the wall. Very nosey must be more excitement at my house. He sneaks like a pervert. Dirty old man!!”
Are you a bad neighbour? Or do you just live next door to one? I want to hear your stories.

You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and tweet him your thoughts.

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