Last year most Swiss employees were working from home. Although this helped them achieve a better work-life balance, being stuck inside their own four walls also caused frustration and annoyance for many people. According to figures from AXA-ARAG, this frustration has led to an increase in disputes between neighbors over the past year.
Disagreements with the people next door went up by 23 percent last year. Switzerland’s leading legal protection insurer, AXA-ARAG, noted a 30 percent increase in disputes between neighbors in the first four months of this year, too. Trouble with the neighbors can flare up quickly: In this country, most disputes are over the height or proximity of shrubs, hedges, and trees. Disputes regarding plants mainly arise in spring, since this is the time when plants grow quickly and people spend more time outdoors and doing the gardening. According to AXA-ARAG legal expert Alexandra Pestalozzi, the Covid-19 pandemic is not directly responsible for stoking new conflicts between Switzerland’s neighbors: "At most you could say that people simply noticed annoyances more because they were spending far more time at home." Consequently, customers of AXA-ARAG were more likely to mention being disturbed while working from home, she said.
Noise is also causing more disagreements at the moment. Complaints about screaming children, noisy neighbors in general, and construction noise increased by 73 percent year on year in 2020. This year, too, the number of noise complaints noted by AXA-ARAG went up by 13 percent between January and April alone.
The Swiss are also falling out over construction work to which one party in the neighborhood objects. According to AXA-ARAG, building objections also rose by some 73 percent year on year in 2020. Between January and April 2021, the increase was a hefty 200 percent.
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.
"Mediation can be very helpful for resolving disputes between neighbors, too"
In most cases it is advisable to seek an amicable solution before taking a neighbor to court. "Going to court is not only risky but can also take a long time, and in many cases a court judgment alone does not resolve the issue," says Alexandra Pestalozzi, a legal expert at AXA-ARAG specializing in real estate law. She therefore recommends approaching the neighbors and trying to find a solution acceptable to both parties. If that doesn't work, it's advisable to seek impartial assistance: "We find that mediation can also be very helpful for resolving disputes between neighbors." The best way to ensure that you get along with your neighbors, according to the AXA-ARAG expert, is to talk to them and show a certain amount of tolerance. "As a rule of thumb, avoid doing anything that you yourself would find annoying."