Unless you live in an isolated cottage or a remote farmhouse, you’ve probably got neighbours to deal with.
Maybe you’re best friends, chatting over the fence and swapping gardening tools. Perhaps you’re just acquaintances, wishing each other good morning but not quite knowing their names. Or it could be that you’re sworn enemies, locked in a bitter dispute that won’t end until one of you is gone.
No one wants to be trapped in a feud like that. We all deserve to feel happy and comfortable in our own homes - but sometimes, it’s our homes that are at the root of the problem.
If you’re having real issues with your neighbours, there’s government guidance and help from Citizens Advice that can help steer you back on the path to borrowing a cup of sugar. But if your home - or their home - is a sticking point, see how a little help from a local tradesperson could help bring harmony back to your street...
Probably the single most pressing issue among neighbours is noise. Depending on how thin your walls are, everything from pets to parties to TV to toilets flushing can be enough to make you reach for the ear plugs - or fight back with even louder noise of your own.
Of course, there are limits to acceptable noise levels - while you might have to give some leeway to a teething baby, frequent loud parties or howling dogs are legitimate reasons for complaints, and your local authority will have a department for dealing with cases.
But sometimes, your home can be working against you when it comes to sound. In just the same way that you insulate your home for heat, you should also think about insulating it for sound as well.
Good quality double, or even triple glazing can make a world of difference when you can just shut a window to block out what’s happening in a neighbour’s garden, while specialist wall insulation can help dampen sound travelling between shared walls.
A perennial favourite of newspapers, especially during the summer “silly season”, is stories of neighbours going to war over trees.
Maybe a particularly verdant specimen is blocking the light. Perhaps its snaking roots are putting the foundations at risk. Or it could be providing a home to birds that have taken to roosting right above your neighbour’s driveway - decorating their family saloon a tasteful off-white…
The stories usually end one way - with the aggrieved neighbour taking matters into their own hands and going out one night with an axe or chainsaw - not for the people next door, but for the tree, which usually doesn’t come off well from the experience.
If you value the long term health of your tree - and your relationship with the people you live next to - then it’s best to bring in an experienced tree surgeon for any trees that might pose a problem. They can assess and treat the tree to make sure it doesn’t cause issues for anyone - or wind up with you on the front page of the local weekly.
It’s a classic image of British suburbia - nosy neighbours, peering over the fence, trying to keep a watchful eye on what’s going on next door.
But sometimes, it’s not the nosiness that’s the issue - it’s the fence itself.
Any boundary can cause headaches betweens neighbours, whether it’s a fence, hedge or wall, often as a result of a disagreement of how they’re built or maintained. One side might want a larger fence, for example, to ensure more privacy, improve security or keep in pets and children, while the other might want a smaller fence to allow more light into their garden.
Unfortunately establishing who owns what isn’t always straightforward. There is a common misconception that people tend to own the fence to the left - or the right - of their back garden, but there are no hard and fast rules.
In fact, even consulting your property deed or the Land Registry might not help, as there is no requirement in England or Wales for boundary ownership to be specified. However, you may see a small “T” next to a boundary - if this falls on your side, then it is a your duty to maintain. If there are two “T”s together (forming what looks like a “H”) then it is a shared boundary that you and your neighbour own and must maintain between you.
There are no real requirements to even have a fence in the first place, so common sense and calm discussion is the order of the day. If needed you can set up a legal boundary agreement to remove future doubt.
In any case, an experienced fencer can talk you through practical solutions for replacing or repairing your boundary, which should satisfy both parties.
Some things are just a matter of taste. Maybe you want to paint your house a tasteful shade of blue. Maybe you want to paint it a completely tasteless shade of blue. Either way, it’s usually up to you, and unless your local council issues an Article 4 Direction which limits your permitted development rights, there’s no one who can stop you.
How we decorate and look after the exterior of our homes is generally up to us, from the colour we paint it, to what we keep on the driveway, to how many gnomes we put in the front garden. And although our neighbours may not like it, there’s often not a lot they can do.
That doesn’t mean that peer pressure isn’t a real thing though. Many of us want to fit in and see the value in keeping a harmonious street scene - not least because it can have a real impact on actual property values in the long run.
So if your neighbours are seething over your home’s paintwork, perhaps it’s time to find a decorator who can help you keep up with the Joneses?
Even the biggest building projects don’t last forever, but for the time they are happening, they can be a real headache for people who have to live nearby when the work is going on.
If you have to seek planning permission for work you’re doing on your home, for example, if you’re constructing a large extension, then your neighbours will have a chance to comment on and object to the work, which your local authority will take into consideration when deciding whether or not to approve your plans.
For that reason - and for reasons of general politeness - it’s a good idea to try and speak to neighbours first to keep them up to speed with plans.
You can also put in place some guidelines about when work will take place - remember, there are noise considerations that have to be taken into account.
Being upfront and communicating the schedule of work can go a long way to keeping your relationship cordial - and a small thank you gift probably won’t go amiss either.