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How to deal with problem neighbours

You have the right not to face undue nuisance from neighbours - here are the rules

A CERTAIN amount of give and take is expected between neighbours, but you have the right not to face undue nuisance from them, whether noise, smoke, encroachment of trees etc.

Options range from the more amical to taking legal action through a court.

When a neighbour’s behaviour crosses the line of acceptability, this is called troubles anormaux de voisinage (unusual disturbance of neighbours). What comes under this may vary according to a judge’s discretion: recently a woman was fined under this heading for allowing geranium petals to fall on her neighbours’ balcony.

What is acceptable can depend on such factors as location, eg. town or countryside and time of day. Judges also consider how extreme the level of nuisance was, how long it lasted and if it was repeated.

Examples of neighbour nuisance

- Neighbours are responsible for pets’ behaviour. A dog that repeatedly barks loudly can lead to a criminal fine of e450 and/or a civil penalty of damages.

- If you have a party, whether during the day or night, it should not cause excessive noise and disturbance (called tapage diurne or nocturne, a day-time or night-time racket) and you are entitled to call the police or gendarmerie. The penalties are similar to the barking dog and machines causing noise, such as a hi-fi, can be confiscated.

- Lighting a fire, having a barbecue or using a lawnmower may be subject to local bylaws, for example on what days and times they are permitted. Check at the mairie.

- If branches overhang your property, you can demand your neighbour cuts them. Bushes should not be planted less than 50cm from your neighbour’s property; trees over 2m should be at least 2m away.

- Caravans kept on a property for more than three months a year need to be declared at the mairie; if, wheels are removed, they are an illegal construction.

If you want an amicable solution, use a conciliateur de justice, an official mediator, who will listen to both parties and try to get them to agree (free of charge). He will make a document setting out what was agreed, which can, if necessary, be given formal legal force by a court. See Où trouver un conciliateur? (Where can I find a conciliateur?) and www.conciliateurs.fr

If you want to take tougher action, a useful measure is to pay a huissier (bailiff) to visit and take note of the problem. He will produce a report and photographs that can be used as proof in court.

Further action:

For noise problems, go to the police or gendarmerie. You can also write to the procureur de la République at your local tribunal de grande instance (high court), who will decide what action is suitable.

For smaller matters, likely to lead to fines or damages under e4,000, go to the juge de proximité, unless it is a matter that can only be dealt with by a higher court.

For matters up to e10,000 and for all matters about boundaries or encroaching trees, go to the tribunal d’instance, with or without legal representation from an avocat.

Matters over e10,000 are heard in the tribunal de grande instance and it is obligatory to have an avocat.

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