Trouble with the neighbors? Building disputes are on the rise

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Since the end of the pandemic, legal protection insurer AXA-ARAG has seen a drop in the number of inquiries it has received in relation to disputes with neighbors. But one area where disputes are increasing is problems related to building work. And these conflicts reach their peak in the spring and summer months.

Noisy children, overhanging trees or hedges, a new summer house or garden shed that blocks out sunlight: there's no end to the number of things that can spark squabbles between neighbors. “Most of the inquiries we receive in relation to neighborhood disputes come in the spring and summer months,” says Laurent Bühler, a legal expert at 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. The peak period for such inquiries is March to June; by far the lowest level of cases is recorded in December.

Less conflict now the pandemic is over

Following the sharp jump in neighborhood dispute-related inquiries during the pandemic, the situation now appears to have normalized. Last year, AXA-ARAG recorded 13% fewer cases than in 2021; this year, the drop currently amounts to a further 6%. “This trend is self-explanatory: people are spending less time at home and possibly quite simply picking up less on annoying behavior.  We're not back at pre-pandemic level yet, however,” explains Laurent Bühler. The cantons of Vaud, Valais, and Bern account for a disproportionally large number of dispute-related inquiries. The canton with the fewest neighborhood disputes per number of legal cases reported is Zurich, followed by Aargau and Thurgau.

Increase in building-related disputes

The issues most often behind trouble with the neighbors are plans for new building work, trees and hedges, and noise. This has been the case for a good number of years. A decline in inquiries regarding vegetation and noise has come alongside an uptick in the proportion of disputes caused by building work. AXA-ARAG has recorded an annual increase of close to 10%. Laurent Bühler: “Living space is being continually squeezed, which makes it more and more coveted. This inevitably leads to friction.”

“We have had very positive experiences in resolving neighborhood conflicts using mediation.”

Laurent Bühler, legal expert at AXA-ARAG

Settling matters out of court the best way to go

The first step in a conflict between neighbors should always be talking to each other directly. If no solution can be found, it is advisable to bring in a neutral party. “We have had very positive experiences in resolving neighborhood conflicts using mediation,” says Laurent Bühler. Taking a conflict to the courts is very seldom the right course of action. “Court proceedings are risky, potentially costly, and can drag on for a long time. What’s more, in many cases a court judgment does nothing to resolve the underlying issue.”

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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