21 Nov 2012
Unless you own property in the middle of nowhere with plenty space between your home and neighbours, dealing with neighbours within close proximity is a reality.
John Roberts, chief executive officer of Just Property Group says the outcome of a case between East London neighbours - the judgment on which was delivered earlier this year - has an interesting message for owners and investors.
The area was zoned agricultural, but in 2007 Sammy and Simon Amos Brown began using their property as a conference and wedding venue.
They converted a building close to the boundary line with neighbour Alexa Bickell, who was not pleased with the new noise-generating business.
When neighbourly discussions broke down, she took the matter to court and won resoundingly.
No noise-generating functions could be held until the present structure had been demolished and a soundproof one built instead - and that building could not begin until issues raised by the neighbours had been incorporated into a design approved by the economic development and environmental affairs department.
That Bickell had to return thrice to court because her neighbours were in contempt might speak volumes to neighbourly relations.
However, the outcome of the April decision could have left them with little doubt about their future if they again transgressed - they were slammed with a R20 000 fine payable within 10 days with a six-month jail term waiting should they fail to do so.
They were also warned that if found in contempt of court again in the next three years, they would be jailed for six months.
This was their reward for having “paid scant regard to the rights and entitlements of their neighbours”.
The interesting element of this judgment is the implication it has for neighbourly relationships and the consideration people have to pay in ensuring their activities do not interfere with the well-being of those living within earshot, he says.
Noisy neighbours can detrimentally impact on your life and the enjoyment thereof - or in the case of investment property - on the enjoyment tenants have in living in that space and thus their willingness to renew the lease or even terminate before term.
On one side, noisy neighbours can merely distract you from fully enjoying the simple daily activities - watching television, listening to music or reading a book.
Roberts says on the other hand they can affect the ability to secure sufficient sleep, spiralling into related health issues.
Psychologically, experiencing excessive unwanted noise can be destructive and, in persisting unrelentingly, can become an issue way beyond its confines to something akin to road rage.
When the affected party is your tenant, the issue becomes yours too.
What is the answer to this conundrum?
The first step must be to personally approach the problem, because in reality the neighbours may not be aware that their actions are disturbing.
A less personal approach would be writing a letter explaining the sleep deprivation, but remaining polite as initial aggressive behaviour is unlikely to lead to a desired outcome.
Should those outlets fail, the next approach would be collecting evidence - a diary of noisy activities that would be beyond reasonable suburban acceptance levels or times.
This could be vital should you need to take the issue to the authorities or, as Bicknell did, to court.
However, there are always unreasonable people and should you realise that would be the case with the neighbours, rather call the police to handle the issue than put yourself in danger.
On a related matter, because in fact the noisy neighbour may not be two-legged, the issue of pets in investment properties can also be a contentious one.
Investment properties are essentially that - a means by which to generate income and grow an asset base.
While in some complexes, pets are forbidden according to the body corporate rules and thus not an issue with tenants, the decision to allow tenants to have pets on your property is yours to make.
Both tenants and landlords must be clear upfront on the permission to prevent arguments down the road.
From a tenant's perspective, having a pet can be viewed as a major drawback by landlords, particularly if there are other applicants without pets.
However, should landlords allow pets, the lease agreement must specifically state the nature and number of the pets included.
One small dog does not translate into two great Danes.
It would also be advisable for the lease to state that carpets be dry cleaned and damage rectified including the lawns and garden.
In a nutshell, dealing with neighbours or pets merely means keeping a cool head, he adds.
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