The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us many things, including the real value of great neighbours – and the true awfulness of bad ones.
And the best time to find out which kind you’re likely to have,” says Gerhard Kotzé, MD of the RealNet estate agency group, “is before you commit yourself to the purchase of a new home”.
It is true that property owners in South Africa have considerable rights in terms of the free use of their properties, he notes, but these rights are supposed to be balanced with the neighbours’ equal rights to the full enjoyment of their properties. “They should thus not be exercised in an unreasonable way, and this premise is of course the basis for many of the conduct rules that apply in sectional title complexes and gated estates.
“However, things can become quite a bit more complicated in the suburbs, depending on homeowners’ individual tolerances for potential ‘nuisances’ like noise, traffic and other people’s pets, and the duration of any kind of irritation. What is more, the huge swing to working from home over the past year has heightened many people’s awareness of what their neighbours do all day – and considerably raised the potential for friction.”
For example, he says, you might not mind the occasional noisy weekend party next door, especially if the neighbours have been courteous enough to forewarn you. But loud music emanating from their home every day and night is very likely to be a serious problem, especially if you are trying to work from your home office.
“Similarly, you might not previously have been bothered by the sounds of children playing in the garden, especially if you have a family of your own, but could be quite overwhelmed now by the all-day noise and traffic if your neighbours are running a nursery school or day-care centre.
“Other common causes of friction between neighbours are dogs that bark incessantly, trees that cast welcome shade in one neighbour’s yard while blocking light from another’s windows, revving engines and noisy leafblowers, mowers and other machinery.”
However, says Kotzé, while you can call the authorities and even go to court to stop unreasonable neighbours from doing things that drive you up a (garden) wall, these ‘cures’ tend to be costly and time consuming and also lead to permanent rifts in communities. “Home buyers are thus much better off trying to avoid any such problems altogether, and their first step should be to ask home sellers how they like their neighbours and their lifestyle, and whether they are running any sort of business from home that brings additional traffic, raises noise levels or could be a security risk.
“Home buyers who are really concerned should also make a point of viewing any homes they are interested in buying a few times, on different days of the week and at various hours of the day, to assess the situation for themselves.”
Meanwhile, he says, it is worth noting when you are viewing property that if you would need to replace an old fence with a wall to enhance security and privacy, the neighbour will not be obliged to pay half the cost. “If you have friendly neighbours and they feel that they and the value of their house will benefit, they might agree - but you shouldn’t count on it.
“And before a new wall is erected, you will need to take special care to establish exactly where your property boundary lies. It may sound unreasonable, but a neighbour will be entitled to apply to have your new wall demolished if it encroaches even a few centimetres on to his property.”