What the law says about noisy neighbours and other nuisance complaints in South Africa

The Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions on movement due to lockdown regulations forced pandemic-led lifestyle changes for many South Africans – including fewer shopping- and leisure-related trips. Many have chosen to entertain at their homes.

With fewer reasons to leave the house, and the ability to work from home, some of your neighbour’s irritating habits that were tolerable – or which simply went unnoticed – are starting to get to you. This can cause tension between neighbours, which usually results in a dispute, says Gabriella Keeble of SchoemanLaw.

“Going to war with your neighbour usually does not end well for either party, whether in or out of court. So, it is best to always weigh your options before engaging in all-out warfare,” she said.

It is always better to hash things out and negotiate before a dispute escalates, Keeble said.

“An amicable agreement between neighbours that is reasonable and fair will ultimately result in a favourable outcome for all parties involved and create harmony within the community.

“If negotiation fails, there are many alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and avenues to choose from, such as mediation or arbitration instead of proceeding immediately with litigation.”

However, if there is no other option, make sure the law is on your side, she said.

Balance of competing rights

With the current conditions of society due to the pandemic, it is difficult to set out strict rules that deal with neighbour relationships and balance each party’s individual right to the enjoyment of their property and home, said Keeble.

This is why it is of utmost importance to know what the law permits and to know what is considered a reasonable ground for a dispute, she said.

“It should be noted that you are entitled to lawfully enjoy and use your property without any unreasonable impediment.

“An impediment or interference is unreasonable in terms of the courts if it is unexpected in the circumstances and does not fall within the parameters of give and take. However, the use of your property must not result in you causing a nuisance.”

The most common disputes between neighbours are defined as nuisances. These include disturbing noise, foul odours and smoke. This can be noise from power tools, loud music and the constant barking of dogs, or damage to property caused by trees and the irritation caused by falling leaves and branches.

“As mentioned, if your neighbour is causing a nuisance and there is no amicable arrangement that can be reached to limit your discomfort, you will need to pursue legal action,” said Keeble.

Pursuing legal action

Pursuing legal action should be a last resort, but if required, this usually takes the form of a claim for damages or an application for an interdict, said Keeble.

“The courts will essentially try and balance the rights of the parties involved and take all the relevant factors into account to determine whether the one neighbour is causing a nuisance and if the use of his/her property is unreasonable to the detriment of the other.

“The balance that the court tries to achieve encapsulates the rights of all the property owners in the surrounding area and the two disputing neighbours.”

These disputes deal with the individual property rights of each property owner, said Keeble.

When used correctly, these rights can create certainty and be beneficial for a community as a whole, she said.

“However, they can also have an adverse effect if enforced incorrectly and place a severe burden on the community.

“Therefore, it is essential to know your rights as a homeowner and make sure that you are not acting in a manner that can be detrimental to your neighbours and that can cause a dispute. Consult with a legal professional before pursuing any legal action against your neighbour.”

Read: These are the ‘hidden’ costs you will pay when buying a house in South Africa

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What the law says about noisy neighbours and other nuisance complaints in South Africa