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Remove requirement to reveal disputes with neighbours when selling your home

Comment 4th July 2010

In theory, the requirement to reveal disputes with neighbours when selling one's home appears sound but it is open to abuse. Twice in the last three years, neighbours have used this requirement as a blackmailing tool against me. The requirement was designed to protect purchasers but, instead, it is being used as a weapon against vendors. For example:

1. My mother died three years ago. We, her children, planned to sell her house. Just a couple of weeks after she died her neighbours tresspassed onto her land, went to the far side of her garden and hacked down a (not particularly high) hedge they felt was obstructing their view. All that was left were sawn-off stumps poking out of the ground. We were devastated that people could do that but we also had a dilemma. Should we start a dispute with the neighbours and risk not being able to sell the house because of the requirement to declare the dispute or should we let the neighbours get away with it. We felt we had no choice but to opt for the latter.

2. I was about to put my own house on the market eighteen months ago. A previously friendly neighbour asked me to cut down a tree at the bottom of my garden. I declined and told him to take it up with the new owners. His request turned into a  demand. I refused. He turned to me and calmly told me that, if I didn't cut down the tree, he and I would be in dispute and I would have to declare such to all potential purchasers. 'Try getting a buyer now!' he said.

This abuse of the law by unscrupulous neighbours has affected me twice in three years. I cannot be alone. It has been turned on its head from a law protecting purchasers to one that can be used to attack vendors. My solicitior told me that I had the choice not to fill in that section of the forms but that the absence of an answer would be interpreted as a 'Yes, there is a dispute with neighbours.' So that's not really an option, is it!

No wonder people are reluctant to complain when neighbours behave in an anti-social manner. A dispute with neighbours over any matter instantly devalues one's home. Scrap it now.

Why does this matter?

It isn't just purchasers who need protection when buying a property. With one's home being one's most important asset, property owners, all of whom are potential vendors, need to be protected too. And a requirement that allows such open abuse and which can be turned completely on its head and converted into a means of attack should be removed. Clamp down on anti-social and un-neighbourly behaviour – yes – and don't give these neighbours a tool for blackmail.

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