Quarrels among neighbors: Insulation, hedges, fences – five taboos on property lines

There is always trouble among neighbors at the property line. Sometimes fences, hedges and walls trigger a fight, sometimes trees and shrubs. Recently, there has also been a dispute over the subsequent insulation of houses. Owners can prevent problems.

The basic rule is derived from the German Civil Code (BGB). It states that nothing may be done that infringes on the property rights of others. In addition, federal state neighborhood laws, municipal specifications, and court rulings provide auto protection. An overview of things that landowners for the sake of peace should avoid on and around boundaries to their property.

1. Smell, noise and barbecue fun

Grilling is one of the typical causes of neighbor conflicts. This does not have to be the case if homeowners choose the right location for their barbecue corner during the planning phase. It can in principle go anywhere, but not directly on the fence, hedge or boundary wall to the neighbor and not at all where the smoke from the grill enters the bedroom and living room.

Neighbors may find such emissions and the smell of the food being grilled both disturbing and unacceptable. It would again mean an encroachment on his property rights, as the state chairman of the Hessian arbitrators, Bodo Winter from Büdingen, explains. He and his colleagues take care of the amicable settlement of neighbor disputes.

Winter adds compost heaps to the list of nuisances to avoid when emitting odors that not everyone finds pleasant. The judge advises to discuss in advance with neighboring owners where there is a suitable place for barbecue and compost.

2. Border violations

A shed here, a fancy garden shed there: Over time, some homeowners have put a lot more into their property than just their home. If superstructures erected directly on the property line protrude into the neighbors, they are generally not allowed. Even if it is only centimeters.

Cross-border construction should therefore be avoided. Berlin lawyer Petra Sterner, a member of the working group on building and property rights in the German Bar Association (DAV), formulates the trouble-saving principle as follows: “Stay on your own property!”

As a starting point, fences and hedges may stand at the border, but not in the neighbor’s garden or right on the border. An exception is enclosures that put neighbors together on the common border. Then “fences and hedges belong to both; both are responsible for maintenance and costs, ”says Schiedsmann Winter.

Trees and shrubs should not be planted right next to the border. It must be avoided that they multiply in the neighbor’s garden. If you are bothered by overhanging branches, you should not use your own saw. If the tree is protected by a tree protection order, sawing will be an administrative offense.

3. Structural changes

On slopes, owners often come into conflict over leveling the terrain. “It’s a big point of contention when there is damage to the house below,” Bavarian lawyer Oliver Mai said.

Classic are flooded basements after thunderstorms and heavy rain because the change in area affects the flow rate of water. Changes to the slope wall should also not be made without prior agreement or written consent from the so-called underlying.

4. Insulate

Can insulation touch neighboring terrain? Depends on the. “The limit must be met for new construction,” says attorney Sterner. In the case of existing buildings that subsequently receive an energy-saving coat, the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) has no problem exceeding the limit. He decided that neighbors must withstand exterior insulation (Az. V ZR 115/20 and V ZR 23/21). The Supreme Court judges consider it possible that climate protection justifies this approach.

Subsequent insulation may, however, only slightly affect the use of the neighboring property and must comply with the respective specifications issued by the federal authorities for subsequent insulation. According to Sterner, shells that were later attached usually reached ten or twelve inches above the limit. Affected neighbors would be entitled to the so-called superstructure pension. However, it is minimal.

5. Intrusion prohibited

Basically, property owners have lost nothing on the land next door. But sometimes you have to go over there. For example. cutting hedges or facade work. But: “Not without warning,” warns Bodo Winter. This should be done two to three weeks in advance. A friendly shout over the garden fence will usually suffice. In the event of a strained relationship, a written notice is recommended.

According to the hammer blow and the ladder law, the neighbor must agree to the request, but a refusal for significant reasons is possible.

If you want to know more about the rules for neighbors, you should first ask the municipality where you live. The offices usually know both the state requirements and the municipality’s requirements, for example in local custom.

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