Overhanging branches, noise pollution or a structure over the boundary. A dispute with your neighbors is no fun. Yet neighborhood conflicts occur regularly – last year neighborhood mediators received around 20,000 reports. How can you best tackle four common complaints? Judge Erik Koster answers.
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A good relationship often prevents a lot of misery, Koster knows. As a judge and mediator, he has seen many neighborhood disputes: from dog nuisance to property boundary issues. And his experience shows: when communication from both sides is good and respectful, a solution is often closer. “Legal rules help us make decisions in disputes, but everyone is free to find a practical solution in the shadow of the law.”
It is therefore important to get in touch with each other. “Preferably before irritations arise, because it often becomes unpleasant if you have never spoken to your neighbors and then come to the door with your complaint.” In any case, always remain neat and calm and leave room for someone else to arrive at the best possible solution. Then you see that neighbors often want to add some water to the wine.”
When talking is pointless
If you notice that talking to each other is pointless, then a neighborhood mediator comes into the picture. It is better to engage them in a timely manner before a dispute gets (further) out of hand. Both parties must agree to such a mediator. A local police officer or boa can also provide a solution in some situations. As soon as an authoritative ruling is needed, there is also the judge. The Overijssel District Court has started the Overijssel Consultation Judge trial to find a cheap, simple and quick solution to, among other things, neighborhood disputes. Similar pilots are also running in Rotterdam and The Hague.
Judge Erik Koster is such a mediator and therefore a kind of Mobile Judge, but without cameras. “Every case is unique, which is what makes the work so much fun. The law clearly sets the boundaries of the playing field, and within that, issues are often not so black and white.” His tip: before you go to a judge, first inquire about the legal structure of the conflict. Otherwise you might put all the costs and effort into such a process for nothing.
Four typical neighbor complaints – and what you can do about them
1. Nuisance from trees
Suppose your neighbor has a beautiful tree, but the branches hang partly in your garden and cause a lot of mess. Can you simply prune what sticks out? “The law states that you must first ask your neighbors to remove the branches yourself. If that does not happen, you can in principle do it yourself. The question is of course whether the relationship with your neighbor will still remain good. “, says Koster. Moreover, you should always check whether pruning does not harm the tree. So please start the conversation and indicate what kind of inconvenience you are experiencing.
In principle, a tree must be at least 2 meters from the property line, although there are exceptions. If it does not rise above the hedge or if the municipality allows it, it can remain standing. Koster: “A statute of limitations often also plays a role with trees. If it has been there for twenty years or more, the other party can invoke the statute of limitations. This is determined by law.”
Neighbors Dispute Photo: Edo Draaijer
2. Property boundary issues
Neighbors can also quarrel with each other across the property boundary. Is that shed a bit on the other person’s ground or not? A limitation period also applies here: if a situation has existed for twenty years without complaints, there is nothing you can do about it. For structures that were constructed recently, the rules are clear: property boundaries are property boundaries. “It may therefore very well be that you build something that meets all building regulations, but goes 10 centimeters over the property line. Then it may have to be demolished again.”
But often it is not so black and white, says Koster. “As a judge, I would not simply order an entire barn to be demolished if it is only a few centimeters over the property line.” You can often find an alternative solution. “I have had a case in which people discovered after a long time that the property boundary was different than expected. To settle the case, they paid an amount for that piece of land and that was registered with the land registry. also a solution.”
3. Noise pollution
A noisy party at the neighbors, barking dogs, jobs after ten o’clock at night or the neighbor racing through the neighborhood on his motorcycle at night. It can all cause annoying noise pollution. Nationally, there are no fixed descriptions that determine what exactly noise pollution is, such as an upper limit for the number of decibels or times at which noise can be experienced as a nuisance. “What the law does say is that you may not cause unlawful nuisance to each other. What constitutes unlawful nuisance varies from case to case,” says Koster.
The General Local Ordinance (APV) of your municipality may contain something about noise pollution, but that does not always provide a definitive answer. Mutual agreements work best. A note through the door at a party, a matter of taking each other into account. “Sometimes people are not aware of the nuisance they cause: speaking in a friendly manner can therefore have a preventive effect. I recently had a case where a couple in the neighborhood caused a lot of nuisance because they sometimes argued loudly at night. Ultimately, they had a good conversation and agreed to have a neighborhood barbecue. This way they can get to know each other better in a different way. That is of course not always an option, but investing together in good mutual relationships can help to discuss irritations earlier and prevent escalations.”
4. Klikos too early/too late on the street
Does your neighbor always put the wheelie bin on the street way too early or does he continue to disrupt the street scene for days after the garbage truck has arrived? You can also fall back on the APV of your municipality for this. This often describes exactly when the wheelie bin can be placed at the roadside and when it must be brought inside. First, kindly point out these rules to your neighbor and make it clear why they bother you.
If that does not help, a local police officer or boa can provide a solution if there is great annoyance. “I wouldn’t start with that right away,” says Koster. “Then you make yourself dependent on the government again. You can also sometimes be disappointed due to capacity problems. It is never positive for relations with your neighbors to immediately send the public authorities. Try to reach a solution together first, if necessary with the help of a neighborhood mediator or mediator.”