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Monday Dec 03, 2012

Courts will protect property owners from noisy neighbours

Unless you really do own property in the middle of nowhere, with miles of open space between your home and the neighbours, the likelihood of dealing with people living nearby is a reality in modern society, says John Roberts, chief executive of Just Property Group.

"The outcome of a case between East London neighbours - the judgment on which was delivered earlier this year - has an interesting message for owners and investors. The area was zoned agricultural, but in 2007 Sammy and Simon Amos Brown began using their property as a conference and wedding venue.

"They converted a building close to the boundary line with neighbour Alexa Bickell, who was not pleased with the new noise- generating business. When neighbourly discussions broke down, she took the matter to the courts and won resoundingly.

"No noise-generating functions could be held until the present structure had been demolished and a soundproof one built instead - and that building could not begin until issues raised by the neighbours had been incorporated into a design approved by yhr economic development and environmental affairs department," says Roberts.

That Bickell had to return to court three times because her neighbours were in contempt might speak volumes on neighbourly relations. However, the outcome of the April decision could have left them with little doubt about their future.

If they transgressed again, they would be given a R20 000 fine, payable within 10 days, with a six-month jail term waiting should they fail to do so.

They were also warned that if found in contempt of court again in the next three years, they would be jailed for six months. This was their reward for having "paid scant regard to the rights and entitlements of their neighbours".

The interesting element of this judgment is the implication it has for neighbourly relationships and the consideration people have to pay in ensuring their activities do not interfere with the well-being of those living within earshot.

Noisy neighbours can have a detrimental impact on your life or, in the case of investment property, on the enjoyment tenants have in living in that space. They may be unwilling to renew the lease or might even terminate before term.

On one side, noisy neighbours can merely distract you from fully enjoying the simple daily activities - watching television, l istening to music or reading a book. On the other hand they can affect the ability to secure sufficient sleep, spiralling into related health issues.

Psychologically, experiencing excessive unwanted noise can be destructive and, if persisting unrelentingly, can become an issue way beyond its confines, to something akin to road rage. When the affected party is your tenant, the issue becomes yours too.

  • What is the answer to this conundrum?

    The first step must be to personally approach the problem, because in reality the neighbours may not be aware that their actions are disturbing. A less personal approach would be writing a letter, but remaining polite, as initial aggressive behaviour is unlikely to have the desired outcome.

    If those approaches fail, the next step would be collecting evidence - a diary of noisy activities that would be beyond reasonable suburban acceptance levels or times. This could be vital, should you need to take the issue to the authorities or, as Bicknell did, to court.

    However, there are always unreasonable people and if you realise that would be the case with the neighbours, rather call the police to handle the issue than put yourself in danger.

    Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)


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