Neighbor disputes: With these five basic rules, you can avoid trouble at the property line

Insulation, hedges, fences
Five taboos at the property boundary

Everything is relaxed when you move in, but over time your relationship with your neighbors changes? It doesn’t have to be – if you keep a few basic things in mind.

There is always trouble among neighbors at the property line. Sometimes fences, hedges and walls trigger a fight, sometimes trees and bushes. Recently, there has also been a dispute about 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, the federal states’ neighborhood laws, municipal specifications and court decisions set car guards. An overview of things that, for the sake of peace, landowners should avoid on and around the boundaries of their property.

1. Smells, noise and barbecue fun

Barbecues are one of the typical causes of neighbor disputes. This does not have to be the case if homeowners choose the right location for their barbecue corner during the planning phase. In principle, it can go anywhere, but not directly on the neighbor’s fence, hedge or boundary wall and certainly not where the smoke from the barbecue enters the bedroom and living room.

Neighbors may find such emissions and the smell of the food being grilled both disturbing and unacceptable. This would again mean an intervention in his property rights, as 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 piles to the list of nuisances to avoid as they give off odors that not everyone finds pleasant. The arbitrator advises to discuss in advance with neighboring owners where there is a suitable place for barbecue and compost.

2. Boundary violations

A shed here, a fancy garden shed there: Over time, some homeowners have put much more into their property than just their home. If superstructures erected directly on the property line project into the neighbours, they are generally not permitted. Even if it’s only centimeters.

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

As a starting point, fences and hedges must be at the border, but not in the neighbour’s garden or right on the border. An exception is fences that put neighbors together on the common border. So “the fence and the hedge belong to both of them; 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 neighbour’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 offence.

3. Structural changes

On slopes, the owners often come into conflict about leveling the terrain. “It’s a big point of contention when there’s damage to the house below,” says Bavarian lawyer Oliver Mai. Flooded basements are classic after thunderstorms and heavy rain because the change in area affects the rate of water flow. Changes to the slope wall should also not be made without prior agreement or written consent from the so-called backer.

4. Insulate

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

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

5. Trespassing prohibited

Basically, property owners have lost nothing on the land next door. But sometimes you have to go over there. For e.g. hedge cutting 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 notification is recommended. According to the Hammer and Ladder Act, the neighbor must agree to the request, but a refusal for essential reasons is possible.

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

(This article was first published on Tuesday, July 26, 2022.)

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