Your home should be the place where you go to find peace and tranquility, where you re-charge your mind and body from the stresses and strains of this busy world! But what if it isn’t?

At the CSOS complaints and disputes department, we see many incidents of altercations between neighbours, cases of harassment that make the victim’s life a living hell, or just plain noise nuisance and disturbance that drive other people in the complex bat-guano mad.

Neighbour Law forms part of our common law. This area of the law recognises that every person has the right to use and enjoy his property, as long as he does not interfere with his neighbour’s right to use and enjoy his own property.

Section 36 of our Constitution allows for a balancing of the rights and interests of legal subjects, because no one has the right to unrestricted use and enjoyment of his property right at the expense of someone else.

“Reasonableness” is the watchword here! Some owners of units in community schemes absolutely hate having to abide by rules, but they should bear in mind that a contravention of section 9 of the Gauteng Noise Control Regulations for freehold property owners, for example, is a criminal offence and one can either be imprisoned for up to 2 years or be fined R 20 000, or both.

The Law, By-laws, Rules and Regulations are necessary, and contrary to popular belief, are not there to be broken. They regulate human behaviour and serve to guide and protect the individual. Are human beings meant to live in close proximity – a mere wall away from each other in some cases? A debatable point – especially if the human beings in question are not prepared to exercise an enhanced degree of neighbourly consideration.

But what if someone’s behaviour becomes so extreme, continuous, rude or abusive, that the ‘victim’ (because there is always a victim), genuinely believes that they will suffer harm at the hands of the perpetrator. This goes beyond nuisance or neighbourly disturbance, when it becomes so bad, that it reaches a stage of harassment. It really amounts to adult bullying, and there always appears to be a psychological aspect involved. The bully aims to make the victim feel threatened, uncomfortable or unsafe.

If the threat is imminent

In instances such as this, if the threat is real and imminent, it is best to approach either the South African Police Services to lay a criminal charge, or from a civil perspective, the Magistrate’s Court, to seek a Protection Order in terms of the Protection from Harassment Act. You do not need an attorney to obtain a Protection Order. You merely approach the Clerk of the Magistrates Court, and he or she will assist you to fill in the necessary forms. If the court is satisfied that there is enough evidence to show that: you are being harassed; and there is a reasonable probability that you will suffer harm if a protection order is not issued; it will issue an interim protection order.

The interim order is served on the Respondent by the Police, with a record of your evidence. What is known as a “return date” is then set by the court, where both parties appear before the Magistrate, and the Respondent must show cause as to why the interim order should not be made permanent or final.

In the 1998 case of Williams v Harris [1998] JOL 2667 (A), the presiding Judge made a noteworthy comment on issues involving disputes between neighbours. He said: “Who chooses to ride a tiger will find it difficult to dismount it unscathed”. When it comes to inter-neighbour disputes, amicable resolutions are always first prize, and disputants would do well to remember the judge’s warning before embarking on any form of legal action.

Nuisance and/or disturbance can take many forms:

Playing unreasonably loud music during hours when families are normally quiet, or if people have asked you to stop and the behaviour continues. Drunk and disorderly conduct on common areas. Very loud parties late into the night or early hours of the morning. Dragging heavy furniture on any floor. Arriving home at night and revving your car and motorbike’s engine. Hooting every time you enter the scheme. Allowing your dog to bark incessantly. Letting water run over your balcony into someone else’s yard or balcony. Foul smells – generally, any inconsiderate behaviour.

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