Anna Newport: Why neighbour disputes could cause sales problems

There is no getting away from the fact that we have all been spending more time at home. In fact, for most of us, there has been no getting away at all.

Anna Newport, director of Newport Land and Law. Picture: McFade Photography

At the height of the first lockdown, Leeds City Council recorded almost 400 more noise reports per month than in the previous year. Whether due to kitchen discos, lively garden gatherings or endless lockdown DIY, it’s clear many of us are running out of patience.

But arguments with your neighbour come with a warning that they could cause problems when it’s time to sell your home and may knock thousands off the sale price.

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Record numbers of people are now contacting lawyers about neighbour disputes. Law firms are experiencing big increases in enquiries about boundary disputes, while councils up and down the country have reported significant rises in noise complaints.

Spats between neighbours can be very tricky to resolve. In some cases, people may consider selling their homes and moving. However, many people don’t realise that this kind of dispute could get in the way of a sale.

It’s always good counsel to keep relationships with your neighbours as cordial as possible, speaking to them about issues before they get out of hand. Passive-aggressive nocturnal fence shifting may feel like the right thing to do when you are at the end of your tether, but it isn’t likely to end well. Neighbour disputes are almost guaranteed to make a prospective buyer think twice.

Although it may feel like your neighbour’s bad behaviour is ruining your life, the real danger of neighbour disputes is the long shadow they can cast over a potential sale. It might be tempting to keep quiet about any issues you’ve had in the past, but this could come back to bite you when your buyer finds out the truth.

Whether the quarrel is over noise levels, an overgrown leylandii or the placement of a wheelie bin, if you’ve been involved in a neighbour dispute, you’re likely to need to declare it during the conveyancing process. Whether or not you need to spill the beans will depend on your individual situation. As a general rule, if you’ve had to involve a third party such as the police, the council or a professional mediator, you will be legally obliged to tell your buyers about it. The same goes for any boundary issues, and it’s not something that you can hide in the small print.

The Property Information Form that you complete as part of the sale pack has a section entirely about boundaries and one about disputes and complaints.

If a neighbour dispute does emerge during the sales process, your buyer will want to assess the issue and decide what to do next. They may be happy to go ahead regardless, they may want to pull out of the sale, or they may feel the dispute is grounds for a discount on the purchase price.

If you are not strictly honest when you are filling in the forms, then you could find yourself with a case for fraudulent misrepresentation on your hands, the consequences of which could be a large damages claim, having to take the house back and return the purchase money.

The good news is that problem neighbours don’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to sell your house. If you find yourself in a situation like this, the best thing to do is find an experienced solicitor and be completely honest about your situation. They’ll be able to advise you on the best way to manage to sell your home.

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James Mitchinson