There were almost half a million complaints to councils last year about noisy or inconsiderate neighbours. We explain how to stand up for your rights.
Hundreds of thousands of people are driven to make official complaints about their neighbours every year.
New research from insurer Churchill has found that 460,000 Brits sought help from local councils in 2013 over issues such as loud music, unruly animals, and homes being kept in a poor state of repair.
Noise the biggest issue
The firm says that noisy neighbours caused more than 200,000 complaints, while just over 100,000 concerned the condition and maintenance of nearby homes.
Spokesman Martin Scott says: "These findings present a worrying picture of the effects other people and properties near our homes have on our lives.
"It’s a reminder to all of us to consider that our parties, pets and general property maintenance may be causing our neighbours undue amounts of stress."
The research found that the greatest number of complaints per head were made in Fife, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Westminster.
In each area, there were at least 40 cases for every 1,000 residents.
Legal help from insurance policy
Churchill points out that many home insurance policies give the option of legal protection cover, which can help meet the cost of any legal action.
But calling in lawyers would be seen as a last resort for many householders. So how should you deal with disputes in the first instance?
A spokesman for Citizens Advice says that the first step should be to talk to your neighbour.
"If it seems that one or both parties will be unable to keep their temper during such a meeting, it may be advisable to write," he says.
Complaining about noisy neighbours
"Sometimes a neighbour may be made to see that their behaviour is anti-social if representations come from a group of neighbours."
Georgina Kent, a marketing executive from Cardiff, found out the hard way that being the only complainant is not a good idea.
She and her husband had been experiencing noise problems from their new next-door neighbours for a number of weeks before they contacted the local council.
"They sent me a diary to complete, noting every time the noise was really loud," says Georgina.
'They knew it was us'
"Then the council sent the neighbours a letter saying there had been a complaint about the noise.
"But seeing as we were the only ones that had spoken to them about the problem, they knew it was us who had gone to the council."
This led to an even greater deterioration of relations between the two couples.
Finally, after a stressful year, the noisy neighbours moved out.
'Be strong and stand your ground'
Georgina adds: "My advice to anyone going through anything similar would be to be strong, stand your ground, speak to your local council and log any incidents with your local police station.
"I'm sure, with hindsight, that if we'd been stronger, this mess wouldn't have gone on for a year and would have been resolved much sooner."
Citizens Advice says that if a personal approach fails, you could try contacting the neighbour’s landlord if they are tenants.
When should police be involved?
The local authority should be contacted if you think the dispute involves something which is damaging to health or well-being — known as a statutory nuisance.
This covers excessive noise and light, as well as a build-up of rubbish which could harm health.
The Citizens Advice spokesman adds: "The police can be called if it is possible that a criminal offence is being committed.
"Common offences in the case of neighbour disputes are breach of the peace, assault, or harassment because of your race or sex.
"Alternatively, a letter from a solicitor may be helpful in making a neighbour realise that you are serious about your complaint."
The bad news is that entering into a dispute with a neighbour can make it harder to sell your home, especially if matters have escalated and the local authority or police have got involved.
The vendor’s estate agent is obliged to provide potential buyers with details of any problems.
But it is worth asking the sellers directly what their neighbours are like as well as doing some investigating of your own.
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