Hot summer months see disputes between neighbors soar

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Plants, noise, and building projects. These are the most common factors that spark disputes between neighbors. In pandemic year 2020, legal protection insurer AXA-ARAG recorded a significant jump in the inquiries it received in connection with trouble with the neighbors. Although levels have stabilized since then, the summer months tend to see an uptick in such conflicts.

Many people find the current high temperatures difficult to cope with. Add to the mix a bunch of noisy children in the neighborhood, overhanging trees or hedges, or plans for new building work next door and you have the perfect recipe for things to boil over. “Summer is when we receive the most inquiries in connection with neighborhood disputes,” says Alexandra Pestalozzi, legal expert at leading Swiss legal protection insurer AXA-ARAG. Although such inquiries dip slightly during the actual vacation period, there is a clear increase just before and after, with significantly more cases than in the colder months of the year.

Conflicts on the rise since the pandemic

Between 2019 and 2020, AXA-ARAG noted a 25% increase in inquiries regarding disputes with neighbors. According to Alexandra Pestalozzi: “The Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t directly responsible for stoking new conflicts; people simply noticed annoying issues more because they were spending much more time at home.” The curve now appears to have flattened out at this level. In 2021, the number of cases registered was up by 5% compared with 2020, with the current year projected to be on a par with 2021. 

More disputes over building plans this year

There are many different reasons for neighbors to fall out. The most common factors behind flare-ups are the height or proximity of plants, noise levels, or building projects. The latter appear to be a particular point of contention in Switzerland this year: In the first six months to June, AXA-ARAG received over 33% more inquiries in connection with building disputes than in the same period in 2021. “One explanation here could be that peoples’ homes have become much more important to them since the pandemic. This has no doubt led to new building projects and, at the same time, an increased awareness of the negative consequences of such projects, such as sunlight being blocked more than before, for example,” explains Alexandra Pestalozzi. 

“We find that mediation can be very helpful for resolving disputes between neighbors."

Alexandra Pestalozzi, legal expert at AXA-ARAG specializing in real estate law

Settling matters out of court the recommended path

In most cases it is advisable to seek an amicable solution before taking a neighbor to court. Alexandra Pestalozzi: “Going to court is not only risky but can also take a long time and the costs can quickly mount up. In many cases a court judgment alone does not resolve the issue.” She advises approaching the neighbors and trying to find a solution together. If that doesn't work, she recommends seeking impartial assistance: “We find that mediation can be very helpful for resolving disputes between neighbors.” The best way to ensure that you get along, according to the AXA-ARAG expert, is to talk with one another and show some tolerance: “As a rule of thumb, avoid doing anything that you yourself would find annoying.”

Three types of nuisance in neighbor disputes

In legal terms, there are three types of nuisance when it comes to conflicts between neighbors. For instance, nuisances can be material (such as contaminants, noise or smoke), negative (which would include a tree depriving the neighbor of sunshine or a wall blocking their view), or non-material. Non-material nuisances are things like building a slaughterhouse nearby that could cause someone psychological distress. According to lawyers, what constitutes a nuisance is a matter of judgment, and each case must be assessed on its own merits. Is the noise or smell excessive, and therefore unlawful, or not? This question has to be answered individually, since a nuisance may be considered excessive in one location but normal somewhere else.

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