It probably goes without saying that neighbours can have a detrimental effect on the value of your property, whether that is because they fail to maintain their own home or shared communal areas, or they cause a nuisance with loud noise or antisocial behaviour. According to recent research by We Buy Any Home, neighbour disputes are also very common, especially after the extended periods spent in our homes during the recent covid-19 pandemic. Apparently, 60% of the UK population has experienced a dispute with neighbours and the most common reasons have been neighbours being too noisy during anti-social hours (40%), impolite behaviour (33%) or boundary disputes (28%).
But when you are buying a new home, is the vendor legally obliged to tell you about nuisance neighbours?
Well, the answer is not always unfortunately.
If there has been a formal dispute between the vendor and their neighbour, it is a legal requirement that they disclose this to anyone buying their home via the seller’s property information form (also called the SPIF). If they fail to declare the dispute, a buyer could accuse the vendor of misrepresenting the property and take legal action against them. Depending on the situation, the buyer could even do this years down the line, so just because the vendor no longer owns the property in question, they are still bound by the SPIF since this forms part of the legal contract between vendor and buyer.
Whilst the definition of a formal neighbour dispute may be somewhat open to interpretation, if there has been contact in writing or the dispute has been escalated to the local authority, council, or police it must always be disclosed. Issues that relate to the property and land around it in particular should always be declared. This could include a boundary dispute involving fences or hedges, issues around allocated parking or access, or any kind of shared property or land maintenance dispute.
When the issue is more subjective such as a noisy pet (or offspring!) it is not necessary to mention this on the form. If the buyer has a number of pets or a large family themselves this may not be something that they would even notice. Equally, if there has been the odd instance of a loud, late-night party but the neighbours have taken comments on board and the issue has been peacefully resolved then it is probably unnecessary to mention.
If a vendor is at all unsure as to whether they should declare an issue they should discuss it with their solicitor to get their professional opinion.
As the buyer, there are some steps that you can take to try and avoid finding yourself in a tricky situation with unsavoury new neighbours.
If you view a property with the vendors themselves, always ask what the neighbours are like and why they are moving house. If they are vague or evasive in their reply this can be a sign that all is not well.
Of course, it may be that the vendor is a bit of a tricky customer themselves and your prospective new neighbours are actually really nice, so don’t let it become a deal breaker without finding out more. Even if you love their property you don’t need to be best friends with your vendor to buy their house and it may be that you end up becoming “BFFs” with the neighbours they don’t see eye to eye with!
If it turns out that the vendor has a brilliant relationship with their neighbours and they are selling their home purely because they are upsizing/downsizing or moving to a different area, it is still useful to find out more about the local demographic to see if it suits your personal circumstances. If it is a quiet street of older residents and you have a large, noisy brood, or vice versa and your child-rearing days are either very firmly behind you, or still ahead of you and you keep very different hours, this could be something to consider.
If you are viewing a property with the estate agent, you should still ask if they know whether there is a good relationship between the vendor and their neighbours, and whether the local area is predominantly families, young professionals, or an older generation – or a real mixture.
A knowledgeable estate agent should be able to provide you with some details about the local community and with so many multi-generational living arrangements these days it is also helpful to be aware if your neighbours have a lot of cars which will be coming and going throughout the day (or night), particularly if parking is limited in the street.
The best way to find out about your prospective neighbours and the local area is to do you own research though. Visit the area at different times of day, during the week and at the weekend as many of your neighbours will be out at work or school during the week. You should also check out the local area in the evening as well since you will be living there 24/7 after all – although obviously don’t turn up on someone’s doorstep unannounced at midnight!