John Mitchell: Everybody needs good neighbours – but we don't always get them

A POLL by Which? on the huge effect on quality of life caused by noisy neighbours, reported in this newspaper on Monday, came soon after a survey by Halifax Insurance which claimed that 360,000 households upped sticks and moved last year because of the same issue.

Also, according to Halifax Insurance, one in three neighbours have – or have had – a dispute of some sort and the latest figures are up by a third in the last two years.

Tellingly, four-fifths of those who sold up for this reason, did not inform their buyers, or their agents, despite this often being a legal requirement. This brings sharply into focus the responsibilities incumbent on people who put their homes on the market because they can't get along with the people above or below them or through the wall.

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Lawyers in Edinburgh and Glasgow work to a deed of "Standard Conditions" in relation to house sales. One of its clauses, referring to title disputes, says that when a house is offered for sale there should not be "current disputes with neighbouring proprietors or occupiers or any other parties relating to access, title or common property".

At one time this clause also applied to historical as well as current disputes but that reference has now been erased. Clearly, however, vendors are still required to inform potential buyers of any dispute with either neighbours, or people who live further down the road, relating to the property itself or – probably more commonly – the front and back grounds. This might include disputes over: pedestrian access to a property, or vehicular access to an adjacent garage; boundary issues; and overgrown plants and trees.

One can understand the temptation to "keep mum" about such things, especially in a market as slow as the one we have today. However, if a title dispute is concealed, the buyer could then have the opportunity to sue the seller under the Property Misdescriptions Act.

Not many aggrieved buyers are likely to go that far; however where the seller really runs a risk is the buyer learning of the dispute before completion of missives – and pulling out of the sale altogether as a result.

However, disputes over title (for example, garden walls or blocked access) took second place in the Halifax survey to aggressive behaviour and excessive noise, which were the two main reasons for homeowners moving out.

In this case buyers are on less firm ground for recompense if they believe a vendor did not mention (or lied about) the existence of other householders in the vicinity who had a penchant for late-night parties, blaring portable radios or carrying out DIY jobs at midnight.

The problem with judging noise from neighbours is one of degree. OK, so there are some hopelessly anti-social elements out there whose behaviour is beyond the pale in anyone's language – and who, according to Halifax Insurance, can knock up to 30,000 off the value of a property. But in a lot of cases noise and disturbance are subjective – what might lead to members of one household suffering a joint nervous breakdown could be shrugged off by those of another.

In reality, one practical way of increasing the chance that your next move is to a sufficiently peaceful location is to play several incognito visits around 11pm on Friday or Saturday nights and gauge the nature of the environment. If the neighbourhood is relatively quiet at that time then there is a reasonable chance the pattern will be the same for the rest of the week.

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• John Mitchell is managing partner at McKay Norwell WS, Edinburgh