Taking action against neighbours with troublesome tenants

05/12/2012


Question: I own a house that has been a trouble free investment until recently. One of the neighbours, who is renting the property next door, is a complete nut. He’s threatened a concession of my tenants, who are all breaking their leases early because of him. One of the past tenants, in fact, has laid an assault charge against the guy. 

The losses I have been incurring because the house is lying vacant for so long are really starting to hurt me now. I’ve had enough. If it happens again, would I be able to sue the owner of the offending neighbour’s house for compensation? I have brought the issue up with him before, but he’s refused to do anything about it because his tenant is one of his mates. 

If legal action isn’t an option, what can I do? 

Answer: 

Despina Priala (Priala Legal): Unless the behaviour can be classified as a noise disturbance, trying to seek legal action for other types of behaviour which may impact whether a tenant stays or goes can be challenging.

If the behaviour is noise related, that is, it relates to excessive noise emanating from your neighbour, there is specific legislation in Queensland, for example, known as the Noise Abatement Act 1978, providing parties with legal action that is enforceable.

Where the behaviour is not noise related, but perhaps nuisance related or bordering on neighbour harassment, there really is no law covering the right for a landowner to claim compensation or other legal action against his neighbour on the basis of “neighbour harassment”, where for example such neighbour has “forced” the land owner’s tenants from vacating the premises.

Even if there was, the landowner who is affected would still need to provide sufficient evidence that the neighbour was the direct cause of tenants vacating. This would entail finding tenants that have left and having them provide testimony to this effect. Even then there would be no guarantee that such evidence would lead to a resolution for the landowner concerned.

Have you considered building a high solid fence? This will allow you to liaise with your neighbour and discuss contributions required for building it. If your neighbour does not want to cooperate, there is legislation dealing with neighbourhood disputes regarding a dividing fence. 

George Vlahakis (Kydon Segal Laywers): Usually your first step is to speak to your neighbour to try and resolve the issue. You have taken that step and no outcome was reached.

Taking court action against a neighbour should be taken as a last resort. It can be expensive for you and your neighbour, and the outcome may cause friction between you, making it difficult to maintain a civil relationship in the future.

If you still want to take the matter to court, an injunction may be applied for to stop the owner and/or tenant from causing a nuisance to you and your tenants as you are suffering damage, namely tenants breaking their leases and losing rental income, due to the neighbour’s actions.

In relation to the possibility of suing for compensation, usually the person who caused the damage would need to be sued, being the tenant in this case, not the landlord. Also, you would need to prove that you have suffered a loss due to the person’s actions and to what degree you have suffered that loss for a court to then determine whether compensation can be awarded to you.

An alternative to going to court and your second step would be to take the dispute to a Community Justice Centre. These centres have trained mediators to help resolve disputes and come to a settlement where hopefully both parties can be reasonably satisfied with the outcome and maintain a civil relationship as neighbours. Mediators do not make a decision on the matter, but rather assist the parties to come to their own decision between them. The mediator also does not have the power to impose penalties or award costs.

Prior to going to mediation it is advisable to obtain legal advice from a solicitor so you are aware of your rights in relation to your particular situation before coming to any settlement at mediation. 

Disclaimer: The information in this article is of a general nature only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. You should seek advice for your particular circumstances before entering into any transaction.

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