Hate thy neighbour

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One bloke copped tens of thousands of dollars in damages and legal fees, and faced losing his home and living on the street. The other guy’s marriage fell apart. That was the outcome of what the court described as a “trivial, sad” dispute.

Ah, neighbourhood disputes. They cause such grief for the parties engaged in them, and usually a certain level of amusement for those observing them. As was the case in Brighton in the United Kingdom when the conduct of two men made a spat between teenage girls look civilised and proper.

Bloke one, who we’ll call Steve, got a bee in his bonnet when bloke two, let’s call him Andrew, applied to council to build a roof terrace. His house was above Steve’s garden flat. The two had hated each other for years.

Absolutely determined to see the planning application fail, Steve engaged in a determined campaign that included forging objection letters by other residents. Andrew cottoned on to the ruse and took his much-despised downstairs neighbour to court for defamation.

He won and was awarded a few thousand dollars in damages, plus old mate had to pay his legal costs that totalled another $40,000 or so. In the course of proceedings, the court heard about the years of torment that had led to their brouhaha – Steve had loud parties, Andrew allowed his washing to blow into the courtyard, and that sort of thing. All very serious, high-level stuff.

Closer to home, there’s a guy on the Gold Coast in Queensland who has been banned from entering the unit he owns because of a three-year war with his neighbours and the building’s body corporate committee.

Yep, he was such a pain in the proverbial that fellow unit owners took him to court and effectively secured a restraining order – for the building. Amazing stuff.

Meanwhile, there are a bunch of people in Sydney that have teamed up to take on trouble residents who blare music, have parties and carry on loud conversations until dawn. All the time. I can relate to the horror and annoyance this can cause.

The undeniable and sad fact of life is that some people are stupid, petty and have little to occupy their time. As a result, a simple misunderstanding or gripe can quickly escalate into a suburban take on Game of Thrones, only with crappier production value.

I lived in a building once that had its own resident troublemaker. She loved drama, even though there wasn’t really any in the complex. So, she manufactured it. And she had props.

This poor old duck would spend her days making signs printed on card in a beautiful font, attached to a broomstick and jammed into a witch’s hat. They were super passive-aggressive and totally unnecessary. She’d pepper them around the building so that no one was oblivious to her complaints.

They were about someone parking in the wrong spot, the collection of junk mail at the letterboxes, the bins being left out too long after collection and so on. Again, very life-threatening issues.

The signs were embarrassing and residents would roll their eyes or snicker when a new one appeared. Only, no one did anything. So, I dropped Madam Complain-a-lot an email and suggested she’d save herself lots of time by raising issues in person with any offending parties, like a normal human being, rather than customising mini billboards. Then I pointed her to our bylaws, which frowned on debris in common areas, and asked her to find a new hobby to occupy her time. Then I CCed in other owners and the body corporate manager.

She never spoke to me again, but the signs disappeared. I think she’s into scrapbooking these days.

The point is most beefs can be resolved. There’s no need for a great song and dance. In many cases, common sense can prevail.

The Conflict Resolution Service in Canberra has a handy guide on how to approach neighbours about a whole host of issues, in an attempt to resolve it peacefully and without fisticuffs. Here it is here. The helpful advice includes reasonable and calm discussion, brainstorming solutions, compromise and respect.

Sarcastically shaming an annoying neighbour via email to a group of amused onlookers probably isn’t in the guide, although that particular approach can be very satisfying.

Of course, sometimes that’s just not possible and a peace summit is in order. If so, some states have free meditation and dispute resolution services on offer. Here’s some information.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to call a television network current issues program. You’ll only hurt your pride and probably local property values.

Shannon Molloy is the deputy editor of Australian Property Investor magazine, www.apimagazine.com.au