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Identifying the nature of the problem

This content applies to England

How to identify the nature of the dispute or problem.

In any case involving a community or neighbourhood dispute, it is essential to assess whether the actions of the individual(s) concerned are the result of a dispute between neighbours and/or are antisocial in nature.

Neighbour disputes

Neighbour disputes do not necessarily constitute harassment or antisocial behaviour. Although distressing for those involved, they are usually based on disagreements rather than civil or criminal offences, and often involve arguments over noise, boundaries, car parking and/or the use of communal areas. Although some unresolved neighbour disputes may lead to antisocial behaviour, early intervention may mean that they can sometimes be resolved through negotiation or mediation .

If occupiers can hear all the sounds of everyday living made by their neighbours, this may be due to poor building design and lack of sound insulation. See the section on Noise for more information about liability for noise nuisance.

High hedges

An owner or occupier of a property whose enjoyment of her/his home is being adversely affected by high hedges, ie where they are more than two metres' tall on an adjoining property, can make a complaint to the local authority. In many cases, the local authority will require evidence that negotiation has failed, and it may charge the complainant a fee before taking action.[1]

The authority has to decide whether the hedge is stopping someone's reasonable enjoyment of their home or garden, striking a balance between the complainant's and hedge owner's interests. The authority can issue a remedial notice, outlining what action should be taken to remedy the problem and to prevent it recurring. The local authority also has powers to go in and do the work needed and can recover its costs from the hedge owner. Failure to comply with the notice is an offence punishable by a fine.

Antisocial behaviour definitions

There is no single definition of antisocial behaviour but it is usually persistent in nature and can be carried out by any occupier, a member of her/his household and/or visitors.

The Housing Act 1985 and Housing Act 1988 set out grounds for possession relating to nuisance or annoyance to neighbours and illegal or immoral use of the property.[2] These can be used if the tenant (or someone living with or visiting her/him) has been engaged in antisocial behaviour. See the page on Secure and assured tenancies for more information about grounds for possession relating to antisocial behaviour.

Part 1 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 defines antisocial behaviour as conduct:[3]

  • that has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person 
  • capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to a person in relation to that person's occupation of residential premises 
  • capable of causing housing-related nuisance or annoyance to any person.

Offences of harassment

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 states that 'a person must not pursue a course of conduct which amounts to harassment of another person, and which s/he knows (or ought to know) amounts to harassment'.[4] A 'course of conduct' involves conduct on at least two occasions[5] and a degree of intentionality must be shown. Harassment might include:[6]

  • violence or threats of violence towards any person
  • abusive or insulting words or behaviour
  • damage or threats of damage to property belonging to another person including damage to any part of a person's home
  • writing threatening, abusive or insulting graffiti
  • any act or omission calculated to interfere with the peace or comfort of any person or to inconvenience such person.

The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 created two separate offences of harassment where the perpetrator of the harassment is the landlord, or an agent acting on her/his behalf, and provides alternative civil and criminal remedies. See the section on Harassment and illegal eviction for more information about harassment that is intended to make an occupier give up her/his accommodation or to restrict her/his rights as a tenant or licensee.

[1] Part 8 Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003.

[2] s.84A Housing Act 1985; grounds 2, 2A and 2ZA  Sch.2 Housing Act 1985; grounds 14, 14A and 14ZA Sch.2 Housing Act 1988.

[3] s.2(1) Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

[4] s.1(1) Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

[5] s.7(3) Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

[6] D Forbes Action on Racial Harassment, Legal Action Group, 1988.

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