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Nuisance neighbours are one of the most unpleasant issues that a property owner can face. Where the conduct is sufficiently bad, however, the law does provide a remedy, as was illustrated by a recent case involving a couple whose dream of peace and quiet in their country retreat was shattered by their neighbours.
The couple had bought a farmhouse in rural Cumbria as a second home and were then able to purchase some of the surrounding farmland. The farmhouse and the land had been sold together in the 1960s, with just a cottage adjacent to the farmhouse retained for the retiring farmer's son and his family. The farmland had subsequently been sold separately.
When the farmer's son inherited the cottage, he could not accept that his neighbours had rights over the land that used to belong to his family and he and his wife commenced a long-running campaign of belligerence against successive owners.
The couple complained of repeated acts of trespass, vandalism of their property, blocking their access and physical intimidation. They went to court to obtain an injunction against their neighbours and were awarded £3,600 for the trespass, £155,000 for the diminution in value of their property due to their neighbours' behaviour, a further £20,000 for various acts of nuisance plus general damages for inconvenience and distress, and £5,000 in aggravated damages.
The neighbours appealed against the awards for loss of value and general damages, arguing that these were not warranted.
The Court of Appeal upheld the claim for loss of value of the property, considering it a reasonable conclusion that there was a significant risk that the neighbours' conduct would continue and that a potential purchaser would pay less for the property as a result. In addition, a new injunction against the neighbours would have to be applied for by any purchaser of the farmhouse as the injunction granted was personal to the couple.
However, the Court did dismiss the award of £20,000 by way of damages for loss of amenity, holding that this had been fully accounted for in the diminution of value award.