How to handle disputes with your neighbours in France

Problems due to messy gardens, noisy children and unauthorised constructions can easily spiral out of control

When a neighbour’s trees overhang your garden in France, you are obliged to try to solve the issue amicably before resorting to legal processes

A dream move to France can easily turn sour due to a simple misunderstanding with your neighbours. Here are our tips on how to handle disputes arising from messy gardens, noisy children or unauthorised constructions before they spiral out of control.

Just as you can choose your friends but not your family, you can choose your home but not your neighbours.

For many foreign residents of France, the cultural divide with their neighbours represents another unknown.

In most cases locals are curious and welcoming to new residents, however, even the best relationships go awry for the smallest reasons.

Contact a conciliateur de justice

Should a problem arise your reflex should be to see a conciliateur de justice.

This is a volunteer who has taken an oath to reconcile parties so that court can be avoided. 

For minor disputes, it is mandatory to take the advice of a conciliateur de justice before bringing the issue before a court or it will automatically be thrown out. 

The conciliateur will attempt to resolve the issue amicably between the two parties before the case progresses

Below, we give an overview of the main disputes you and your neighbour may face.

Noisy neighbours 

The scope of noise complaints is vast, and can apply equally to immediate neighbours who play loud music, bars open late into the night, nearby factories that generate noise pollution and even animals. 

Rules on abrasive noises fall under the public health code.

Read more: What can you do in France if your neighbour’s children are too noisy?

The rules also apply differently at different times. More noise is permitted in the daytime on weekdays than at night, during weekends or on public holidays. 

Read more: Gardening, DIY: what you can and cannot do on a bank holiday in France

If the noise is being made by animals, you can also contact pet charities or groups, to check on their welfare. 

Read more: Noisy neighbours in France: How can I stop a dog barking incessantly?

Of course, rules also exist that apply to sight and smell in case ugly views and potent odours cause neighbourly strife.

Read more: What are the rules regarding having a barbecue in France?

Construction disputes 

If you want to build something new on your land, or extend your existing property, it is often best to talk to an expert beforehand. In some cases, an architect may even be mandatory. 

Read more: Do all property extensions in France require an architect?

If you suspect your neighbour is building an illegal construction, you should contact the local mairie, and if they cannot help you, a conciliateur de justice. 

These cases often end up in court, because of the potential cost involved in demolishing or changing a construction.

Read more: Not respecting planning permission can cost you (a lot) in France

Even if a construction has been authorised, you can still contest it if the plans will impact – or have impacted – your property or decreased its value. 

Read more: Next door’s extension will block sun to my French home. What can I do?

Disputes over outside spaces

In many cases, the local mairie can help in disputes concerning outside spaces, particularly if overgrown gardens are concerned. In many areas of France, the marie has the power to issue fines or to oblige homeowners to trim undergrowth.

Read more: Wildfires: French law may require you to cut back at-risk vegetation

This is in addition, various statutes apply to gardens, including the French Civil Code, which states:

“Anyone whose property is encroached upon by the branches of a neighbour's trees, shrubs or bushes may oblige the neighbour to cut them back.”

The Connexion has written about this in the article below. 

Read more: French law: Can I cut an overhanging branch from neighbour’s tree?

If you are inconvenienced by your neighbour burning waste from their garden, this is another matter. 

The Environmental Code bans this in almost all cases. 

Read more: Can I burn trimmings from my French garden?

Finally, if your neighbour’s land is the source of some agitation – such as mosquitoes from stagnant water – it may be classed as a public health concern, meaning you can reach out to the service communal d'hygiène et de santé.

Read more: Can I make my French neighbours drain stagnant water from their land?