Every time Jenna* leaves her terraced South London home, she takes a deep breath and steels herself in case she bumps into ‘her nuisance’.
It’s the phrase she uses to refer to the woman who lives next door – and has made her life a misery ever since Jenna got a video doorbell.
‘We just wanted a bit more security. But once we got it, things kicked off,’ she recalls.
‘We had a series of 3am visits where she would put stickers on the camera and put signs in our window demanding that we take it down,’ she goes on.
Not long after getting the camera, Jenna – who doesn’t want to reveal her identify for fear of causing even more drama with her neighbour – received a message from the Information Commissioner’s Office saying they’d received a complaint that she was infringing on people’s privacy, when she had in fact been adhering to all the rules.
In a bid to make things right, Jenna enhanced the height of the fence between the two homes, arranged foliage to give her neighbour better protection from any surveillance and angled the doorbell so that it was facing away from her neighbour’s pathway.
But it didn’t make any difference.
‘She started putting dead leaves and sticks over our fence,’ recalls Jenna. ‘The trailing plants were cut down. It was a catalogue of craziness and it was persistent.’
Whenever she tried to speak to her neighbour to try and end the dispute, Jenna says she was either ignored or shouted at.
‘It got to the stage where I dreaded getting up in the morning and opening the door, because I just thought “what am I going to see now?”’ she recalls. ‘It makes you paranoid. There was vandalism on the car, drawing on the fence. I started to question the boundaries of what is normal.’
As she details the catalogue of abuse she has suffered, Jenna describes how whenever her family sat outside, jets of water would be sprayed from next door. She also tells of bits of debris being was thrown over the fence and branches places strategically to block her path.
If Jenna’s family had friends over to the garden, music would be turned up so loud that they couldn’t hear each other talk.
As extreme as it sounds, nightmare neighbours are a very real problem in the UK. A survey by Good Move found that two-thirds of Britons (64%) have had a row with a neighbour, while 6.6 million Brits having experienced boundary disputes in the past year, according to research from Churchill Home Insurance.
Online forums are full of stories of people taking actions for petty grievances. The Facebook group Neighbours From Hell UK features posts from scores of desperate individuals fed up with neighbours throwing litter into gardens, verbal abuse and even threatening to kill pets.
But for Jenna, it felt like a war of attrition: ‘It’s a series of petty little things,’ she says. ‘But it makes you feel concerned that someone is going to act in an unsafe way.’
Jenna decided the only tactic was to try and rise above it. She didn’t want to get the police involved, for fear of exacerbating the problems, even though her neighbour had been trespassing. Instead, she made the conscious decision not to get involved in the rows that drag many households down.
‘Something like this makes you question your own sense of sanity and feel paranoid,’ admits Jenna. ‘It plays with your headspace, but it’s just not worth it. If you go tit for tat, it’s a race to the bottom. Someone has to be the grown up.
‘We’ve just decided not to stoop to her level. It’s a fool’s errand that’s become a time consuming spiral of pettiness. We just have to let it go.’
Ignoring her neighbour and not responding to the harassment may have been a wise decision for Jenna, as neighbourhood disputes can often spiral out of control, even resulting in full-out rows, violence and criminal prosecutions.
In April last year, Brendan Murphy was convicted of harassment after 13 years of abuse aimed at his neighbours.
He reputedly called his neighbour a ‘peeping tom’ and his wife a ‘tart’, and when the insults became too much, they built a six high foot fence between the two properties, near Stockport.
A month later, fellow Stockport resident, Michael Hall, 67, received a suspended sentence and was ordered to do 100 hours of unpaid work, after running a sustained campaign of noise against his neighbours.
He used three leaf blowers at once to noisily terrorise them and would get up at 4am to switch on a chainsaw, earning himself the nickname ‘Michael the Moron’.
Meanwhile, one dispute ended in heartbreaking tragedy in November 2021, when former commando Collin Reeves stabbed his neighbours to death following a row over parking.
According to Annabel Clark, dispute resolution partner at Keystone Law, noise nuisance is the number one cause when it come to neighbourhood disputes.
‘The most common complaint is loud music, heavy footsteps on uncarpeted floor in flats, misuse of common parts and shouting,’ she explains.
The second most frequent grievance is boundary dispute, which became more common during lockdowns when ‘every inch of space, particularly outside, was important’.
Annabel advises a good fence to outline your boundary and prevent arguments with neighbours.
She adds that other causes of rows include overhanging trees and hedges, which are not maintained, dogs constantly barking and parking problems.
Solicitor Zoe Bancroft tells Metro.co.uk that the first thing neighbours should do if there is an issue is talk. ‘There is not much between neighbours which cannot be solved by trying to reach an amicable conclusion by speaking about it,’ she advises. ‘Maybe through a telephone conversation to discuss what the issues are and how you can work together towards a solution.
‘If the matter is particularly sensitive, it may be better to meet in person so that positions are not misconstrued. A meeting at one of the neighbours properties or on the property line may work.’
She adds that throwing accusations isn’t the best way to move things forward.
‘Anger is not the answer,’ says Zoe. ‘Although you may be angry (and perhaps justifiably) when your neighbour complains or offends on the issue you have discussed, try not to let your anger come to the forefront as this is likely to aggravate matters.’
For 58-year-old Mark Deacon, it was the noise from his neighbours that kept him up at night and drove him to distraction through the day.
He moved into his Folkestone council flat last summer, but the booming music and shouting coming from a man upstairs made him miserable.
‘I heard him talking and shouting to himself,’ says Mark. ‘I thought I could live alongside that. Then it got louder and louder. And his music got so loud, you couldn’t hear yourself think. You couldn’t concentrate on anything during the day.
‘The way he blared his music – it was so loud. And he would shout abuse, swear words. It upset my little boy.’
Mark, a self-employed window cleaner, has a 10-year-old son who stays with him on some nights and weekends. But the noise from his neighbour caused him to suggest his child didn’t visit on occasion. ‘There were times when I was so upset, anxious and depressed, I had to stop my son from coming over.’
The neighbour would play the music for hours throughout the day without a break and then up until nearly midnight. ‘Literally all day, every single day. It was horrific.’
Mark complained to his neighbour, who would keep quiet for a while before the music started up again. In the end, he gave up trying to reason with him, and instead wears earplugs.
‘It’s made me so anxious, it’s unbelievable,’ says Mark, who now describes himself as a shell of his former self. ‘I don’t know how I coped some days. I had to leave my house; it’s the only way I could escape the noise. But when I came back home, my heart would sink.’
Mark also describes how he used to go out and drive for hours, but at times the sleep deprivation got too much and he no longer felt safe behind the wheel. ‘That’s what he was doing to me,’ he says. ‘My head is all over the show from it.’
However, right now, Mark is finally living in peace and quiet – albeit somewhat precariously. His neighbour seemed to have disappeared a few months ago, but his possessions remain at the address, leaving Mark constantly on edge.
‘I’m hoping and praying that he doesn’t come back,’ he admits. ‘If he does, there is no way I could live like that again. I don’t know how much more I can take. It’s soul destroying.’
Tony, who owns his semi-detached home in rural Lincolnshire, tells Metro.co.uk he has been plagued by problem tenants next door since 2019.
What to do if you have a neighbour dispute
Pranav Bhanot is a property litigation solicitor at Meaby and Co Solicitors. He advises:
1. Try to engage early in some communication with the neighbour.
2. Keep a written record of all the issues and dialogue with the neighbour. All this could be helpful if matters go to court.
3. Ensure you have all the paperwork relating to your property including conveyances, leases and land registry documents.
4. Think about whether the issue you are aggrieved about really warrants a dispute. Is it something tolerable for the sake of keeping the peace with your neighbour?
5. Consider neighbour mediation before instructing lawyers to try and resolve disputes.
6. Reach out to your local authority and local councillors before spending money on legal teams.
7. Before spending money on lawyers consider whether those funds may be better spent on resolving the matter at hand. For example, clients end up spending thousands of disputes surrounding damaged fences. The funds spent on lawyers could have replaced all the fence panels and concluded the dispute.
8. If you must instruct lawyers, try and have all the key documentation ready.
9. If there is no other way to remedy a dispute with your neighbour, ensure you use a specialist in property litigation lawyer to take the matter to court.
‘We have loud shouting and swearing, which is audible in spite of our having two layers of sound insulation panels on the party wall.’
Reeling off his list of complaints, Tony adds: ‘constant and repetitive door slamming, objects being thrown about, clonking and stomping all day, every day, cannabis odours permeating through to our property and large and rowdy gatherings outside, even in lockdown.’
It’s got to the point, where he and his wife no longer feel comfortable sitting in their garden, says Tony. He’s complained to the local council, who issued a Community Protection Notice, which did ‘no good whatsoever’ and he is now taking expensive legal advice.
‘The landlord, who lives two hours’ drive away, has refused to take any action and has routinely ignored most attempts at communication by us by phone, letter, email or text message,’ adds Tony.
However, what makes their situation all the more stressful is that his wife has been diagnosed with early stages Alzheimer’s, and finds all the loud and sudden noises extremely distressing.
Her condition – also with serious mobility problems – has deteriorated markedly over the past three years since the neighbours moved in, explains Tony.
‘For anyone who may doubt the impact of loud and repetitive sounds, it is a form of torture employed by unsavoury regimes the world over, to break the spirits of political prisoners. For us, it is totally invasive.
‘We have been married for 50 years and have lived in a variety of houses in different locations, but never before have we experienced neighbours as appalling as this.’
Tony has now instructed his solicitors to write a letter to the landlord, a move that he helps will be effective, despite the fact that it can be costly.
In the meantime, Jenna says she will continue to plough on with her head down. She has thought about selling her home, but she loves where she lives and doesn’t want to give her neighbour the satisfaction.
‘I have thought about moving, but there is one thing I can’t abide, and that’s bullies,’ she says. ‘I’m being bullied and there’s not much I can do. But if a for-sale sign ever goes up outside her home, I would jump for joy.’
*Names have been changed
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]
Share your views in the comments below.
The Key Newsletter
Get all the need-to-know property news, features and advice from Metro every week.
Sign up here...
Not convinced? Find out more »