What can we do about our neighbour's deafening woodcutter?

When a neighbour situation goes above and beyond 'normal' behaviour, it is best to make contact informally but legal steps can be taken

14 November 2020
Informal approaches are advised at first in neighbourly disputes, however if needed, there are further steps that can be taken
By Liv Rowland

Reader question: Every year during summer my neighbour splits wood for the winter using a machine, just a few metres from our home. The noise and fumes are intolerable. What is the legal situation with regard to this? 

This kind of problem is referred to in French law as un trouble anormal de voisinage and covers situations such as annoying noise, smells or the spoiling of a view by a neighbour which is above and beyond “normal” behaviour.

It should be something which is “abnormal” by its repetitive nature, intensity or duration. Some communes also have bylaws banning certain noises at specific times, such as use of a mower.

You would need to check this at the mairie and, if the neighbour is violating a bylaw, inform them. They should enforce the law – for example, with a visit by the municipal police and a fine.

In a copropriété building, such as a block of flats, it is also advisable to check the rules of the building on acceptable noise and alert the syndic if a neighbour is failing to comply, as it is part of its job to enforce the rules.

Informal approaches are advised at first – speaking to the neighbour and sending a letter. You can send this recommandée avec avis de réception, recorded delivery post, to have proof of sending and delivery.

You could try mediation using the free conciliateur de justice service. You may also alert the municipal or national police or gendarmerie, who can enforce a fine (€68 if paid quickly, rising to €180) if they visit and note the noise.

You could also pay a huissier, a legal officer, who can visit to make an official record of the situation, which will be useful in case of the last resort – going to court. You can find English-speaking huissiers by clicking Recherche avancée at Annuaire des Huissiers de Justice. The fee for this is typically over €200.

If going to court, you would apply to the nearest tribunal judiciaire. A judge could order the person to stop making the noise and/or award you payment of damages.

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