We all like to get on with our neighbours – after all, good neighbours can become good friends. But disputes between neighbours, from property damage to trespassing and nuisance claims, are on the rise. In 2017 nearly 14% of legal expenses claims we dealt with were down to neighbour issues. In 2018 this figure jumped to nearly 16%.1
So what do you do when things turn sour, and there's an issue with your home which your neighbours have caused?
Does my home insurance cover damage caused by neighbours?
Most home insurance policies don't specifically mention damage caused by neighbours – but it'll be covered by most policies. For example, if a neighbour above you floods their home, causing damage to yours, you'd be protected by 'escape of water' cover.
And if Dennis the Menace from next door kicks a football through your kitchen window, you'd be covered if your policy has accidental damage cover. (In both of these examples, your policy excesses will apply).
So it's a good idea to read through your policy to check what cover you have and if there are any restrictions.
In terms of neighbour-related damage, people often claim for:
- Water leaks (such as a tap being left on, causing a sink or bath to overflow).
- Tree root damage.
- Party wall damage due to building works. In these cases there should've been an agreement between both owners under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 before work started.
Nuisance claims often include:
- Tree root damage.
- Ongoing water leaks.
- Preventing you getting in and out of your property easily.
- Invasive plant problems, such as bamboo or Japanese knotweed.
Keep a record of evidence of damage caused
When claiming for damage caused by neighbours, always keep a record of the problem to avoid setbacks, including photographs if possible. This will be your evidence that the issue is ongoing, and potentially is getting worse.
You should also politely inform your neighbours when you notice the first signs of damage – or the possibility of damage. They just may not be aware that their actions are damaging your property.
Is my neighbour responsible for damage to my home?
While you might think that if your neighbour causes damage they're responsible for putting it right, it does depend on the circumstances.
If an unforeseen event happens, such as a roof tile falling off their roof in a storm and which damages your property, then the neighbour is unlikely to be responsible. So unless they agree to pay out of their pocket, you may have to try to claim on your home insurance.
Can I enter someone else's home to turn off their water?
If your neighbours have left a tap on and your home's getting flooded, you can ask the police to help you. They can gain entry under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, on the grounds of 'preventing serious damage to property'. You should never break into someone else's property to turn their water off, even if it's damaging your home.
In most cases – if the leak wasn't expected and the property has been adequately looked after – your neighbour won't be legally liable for the damage. In that case, you'll need to manage the situation yourself, or claim through your home insurance.
Your neighbour could be held responsible if they know about a leak but have done nothing to fix it. For example, if they had a crack in their shower tray but carried on using it, knowing it would cause issues.
Get in touch with your insurer to see whether you can claim, and to make sure any evidence you've got will work in your favour.
Finding a mediator for a neighbour dispute
Mediation is when an impartial legal representative acts as a referee between two people who have fallen out. They work to resolve disputes and come up with a mutually beneficial agreement for both parties.
There can be a fee to pay, but it's still generally quicker and cheaper than going to court, even if your home insurance includes legal expenses cover.
The most important benefit is that by compromising and reaching an agreement between yourselves, it prevents the need for either side to take legal action. It also stops the dispute from getting worse.
Going to court to claim for damage
If damage caused by your neighbour is not covered by your insurer and your neighbour has refused to assist, then you may have to consider legal action as a last resort.
If your home insurance policy does include legal expenses cover, you can use it for your potential legal action. However, your insurer will usually first consider whether your claim has 'reasonable prospects', that is 'a 51% and above chance of succeeding with your claim and enforcing any award'.
You can still take legal action if your home insurance doesn't include legal expenses cover, although it can be a costly process. Before you start proceedings, again make sure your claim has reasonable prospects and that the value of the claim – assuming you win – won't be eaten up by the legal costs you'll have to pay.
Do bear in mind that legal action can escalate tensions between neighbours and cause difficulties if you plan to sell your home in the future.
1 AA Home Insurance Legal Expenses neighbour claims data, 2016–2018. Home Legal Expenses cover protects you against the costs of being sued or having to make a claim against someone else. You can either add it when you buy our standard home insurance, or add it to your existing AA home insurance policy.