Neighbours from hell
So the people next-door use your garden as a litter bin and let the dogs bark through the night. No matter how bad things have become, you can still protect your right to live in peace.
Stacey, 20, shares her flat with three other girls. The students have had to put up with having heavy dancing sessions at 3am from the residents in the flat above them, who also insist on playing cheesy Girls Aloud tunes at full blast.
"I can't do my work as it's too noisy to concentrate. They are like this all the time and the music is normally on in the daytime too," moans Stacey. "They scream out of the windows to the flat opposite and write messages in their windows to encourage others to make more noise."
"We haven't talked to them, but we have gone to our landlord. Personally, I feel too intimidated by them to confront them about the noise. Our landlord was sympathetic and told us that there had been a number of complaints against this particular flat, however she said we would need to put it in writing before she could do anything about it."
Marie, 19, had the neighbour from hell at university. He used to have sex in the communal shower, play his music really loudly at 4am and even got his mates to try to break down her door.
"Luckily the door banging was a one-off, but his behaviour the rest of the time would happen frequently," says Marie. "Even when I tried to confront him it didn't make any difference, it was as if he thought he was well within his rights to do all of it. He would take up too much room in the communal fridge, not clear up after himself when he cooked, and smoke cannabis and cigarettes in the kitchen when we were eating and cooking in there."
When a girl who decided to move out complained formally, Marie decided to call security to deal with him. "I also reported him formally to the accomodation services but nothing was ever done other than sending him letters telling him not to do it again," she explains. "They said there wasn't anything they could do, as if they moved him he would disrupt someone else. In the end I moved out over two months before my contract ended to get away from him and commuted to university instead."
How to cope
If you're in a similar situation, and having a polite word in someone's ear is still not helping, here are some of the legal protections in place to help you out:
Protection from Harassment Act 1977
This law aims to maintain social standards, defined by your 'course of conduct'. Basically, it is an offence for someone to conduct themselves in a way that amounts to harassment of another. This covers any course of conduct that takes place in a public or a private place. It means your neighbour can't just let his bulldog take a dump on your doorstep, switch on the Home Karaoke at three in the morning simply to annoy you, or abandon fridges in your yard. Offenders could face up to six months in jail if found guilty. Just be aware that you have to prove your neighbour's motivation for behaving badly was to wind you up.
Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996
A law crammed with complicated subsections, but which effectively means you don't have to put up with seeing next door's Rottweiler squatting expectantly in your yard every time you open the curtains.
The Noise Act 1996 - except Scotland
Allows the noise people from the council to order the people next door to shut the hell up immediately, have their sound system confiscated, and/or face a fine. Note that the law is only effective if your local authority has chosen to implement it. Contact your council for more details.
Environmental Protection Act 1990 - England & Wales, Control of Pollution Act - Scotland
An effective law if you can predict your neighbour's nightmare noise antics. If they're prone to revving up their stock car engine in the garage late at night, your local authority can investigate the complaint and serve an abatement law if necessary. You are also entitled to take out private action by applying to your local magistrates court (or through a solicitor to the Sheriff's Court in Scotland).
Environmental Protection Act 1990
You know how it is. No matter how smart the street, there's always one run down dwelling where the bins are overflowing and the owner's fond of feeding all the alley cats and pigeons. This far-reaching law contains several clauses that protect your rights should you be unlucky enough to live next door to what you believe is a health hazard. For more information, contact your local council's Environmental Health department.
Housing Act 1996
Another long and daunting piece of legislation, but which you can call upon if your anti-social neighbours are doing your head in. Under this law, you can appeal to the High Court or County Court to grant an injunction to stop them from "engaging or threatening to engage in conduct causing or likely to cause a nuisance." Contains a clause that prohibits use of residential premises for immoral or illegal purposes, so it's useful if you're next door to a brothel or a crack den.
Crime and Disorder Act 1998
A recent range of measures designed to tackle neighbourhood bad behaviour such as drunkenness, violence, intimidation and even swearing. Most notably, you can appeal to the police and your local council authority and have them ask the magistrates court to impose an Anti Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) on main offenders - including those under 18. This civil action can involve restricting a persistent troublemaker from entering a geographical area or banning them from certain acts - like turning the air blue outside your house at midnight every Friday while dressed in nothing but a traffic cone. Should a court hearing go ahead, the magistrate will want to hear evidence backing the case - usually from several people in the community - and will also consider the defendant's circumstances to be sure they're not being discriminated against.
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