There are a number of annoyances you can guard against when buying a home, but a bad neighbour is, unfortunately, not among them.
You can hire a professional to check whether the stumps on the home have rotted or if an army of termites has moved in, but checking the calibre of those next door is far from easy.
And a bad neighbour can take a huge toll on your life. From rowdy mid-week parties to dogs that bark incessantly, the excesses of inconsiderate neighbours are among the most annoying aspects of suburban living.
It is little wonder some homeowners find it is easier to move than deal with a neighbour that is making their life hell.
The problems begin
Retiree John Robertson knows first-hand the soul-destroying effects of a dispute with a neighbour.
His problems began when a couple bought a block of land next door to his semi-rural property in northern New South Wales, and the new neighbours objected to being forced to pay for their share of a fence separating the two properties.
“After that they set about doing everything in their power to disrupt our lives,” Mr Robertson says.
They let their dogs wander onto their yard, played loud drums at 2am in the morning and, at one point, Mr Robertson was punched in the face. He estimates he spent close to $6000 on court proceedings and apprehended violence orders.
“It was remarkably stressful and went on for close to 10 years,” he says.
Play it friendly
Buyers’ agent Patrick Bright says buyers who are concerned about inheriting vengeful, Old Testament-style neighbours, such as Mr Robertson’s, can complete a simple check.
“The best way is to go and introduce yourself and say, ‘Hi, I am thinking of buying the house next door and I just wanted to know what the street and area is like as I am not very familiar with it’,” Mr Bright says.
“I have done this several times for clients and I also encourage them to do this themselves if they are concerned in any way.”
But as Mr Bright points out, there is only so much you can control in terms of who your neighbours are, especially as many investors rent out properties.
“The fact is (the people you talk with) could move out anyway in a few months and someone nutty could move in and there is nothing you can do about it,” he says.
If you do find yourself next door to a “nutty”, dysfunctional personality, there are ways to diffuse the situation, according to Mr Robertson.
“Try not to feed the situation as much as possible,” he reflects.
“I would handle things slightly differently now, and probably pay the money for the fence so as not to provoke them.
“I think you need to give a little with certain people, too. They like to feel they have won and it helps to have the attitude that you can’t expect it all to go your way.”
Mr Robertson also kept a detailed diary of notes that helped enormously throughout the legal process.
“If things do get to that court stage, then the lawyers will be happy that you have kept notes,” he adds.
If all else fails
Sometimes, as in Mr Robertson’s case, no amount of being nice will fix the issue and it is necessary to bring in a third party.
Queensland and Victoria have dispute resolution programs run by the Department of Justice to deal with fighting neighbours, while in New South Wales, help can be sought through a Community Justice Centre.
Mr Robertson’s experience also prompted him to set up his Neighbours from Hell website to help others dealing with terrible neighbours. The site offers legal links, case studies, and information on noise laws.
“In the end, the guy moved out and it has quietened down now,” he says.
“We have lived in suburban Sydney and Brisbane and never had these problems. I think we just got unlucky.”