The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us many things, including the real value of great neighbours – and the true awfulness of bad ones.
And the best time to find out which kind you’re likely to have, is before you commit yourself to the purchase of a new home. It is true that property owners in South Africa have considerable rights in terms of the free use of their properties, he notes, but these rights are supposed to be balanced with the neighbours’ equal rights to the full enjoyment of their properties.
They should thus not be exercised in an unreasonable way, and this premise is of course the basis for many of the conduct rules that apply in sectional title complexes and gated estates.
However, things can become quite a bit more complicated in the suburbs, depending on homeowners’ individual tolerances for potential ‘nuisances’ like noise, traffic and other people’s pets, and the duration of any kind of irritation.
What is more, the huge swing to working from home over the past year has heightened many people’s awareness of what their neighbours do all day – and considerably raised the potential for friction.
For example, you might not mind the occasional noisy weekend party next door, especially if the neighbours have been courteous enough to forewarn you. But loud music emanating from their home every day and night is very likely to be a serious problem, especially if you are trying to work from your home office.
Similarly, you might not previously have been bothered by the sounds of children playing in the garden, especially if you have a family of your own, but could be quite overwhelmed now by the all-day noise and traffic if your neighbours are running a nursery school or day-care centre.
Other common causes of friction between neighbours are dogs that bark incessantly, trees that cast welcome shade in one neighbour’s yard while blocking light from another’s windows, revving engines and noisy leafblowers, mowers and other machinery.
However, while you can call the authorities and even go to court to stop unreasonable neighbours from doing things that drive you up a (garden) wall, these ‘cures’ tend to be costly and time consuming and also lead to permanent rifts in communities.