With Valentine’s day only just behind us, you might think that love is still very much in the air. It certainly was last night, but not for me.

As is not uncommon in my life, I was out for dinner. This time we were trying a very nice French restaurant in the Sloane Square area for the first time.

Although I don’t go for romance (flowers die, chocolate gives me a headache and soppy poems make me want to heave – bah humbug) the restaurant was still what one would probably describe as romantic. Small and intimate with low lighting and candles on the tables. Most of the patrons were in 2s and 4s, and we were seated at a lovely table in a corner, right by the window so we could look out onto the square as evening drew in. There was champagne. There were amazing starters. So far, so wonderful.

Then the table next to us was filled by two very large gentlemen. Large not just in physical stature, but volume. I can tell you in intimate detail about Jamie’s business (he’s a tailor), his latest girlfriend (she works for a hedge fund and could have any guy she wants, but she wants him), how they met, whether or not they slept together on the night they met (she wanted to, but he felt they should wait), the survival training course his father sent him on when he was 9, his sister and the difficulty she’s having with a tenant and the horses. I could go on. He did!

On several occasions my partner and I resorted to texting each other over dinner, partly because we couldn’t hear ourselves, and partly because it gave us more of an opportunity to make fun of our “neighbour”. At one point I asked how they had managed to fit all three of them at the table – him, his companion and his ego. At another point, we thought we’d have an equally loud conversation, implying that we were having an affair (I said that I’d told my wife a lie to get out of the house and did we think she’d work it out) to see if they’d listen in, but they were so loud and wrapped up in themselves that I doubt they noticed.

Different people would handle a situation like that in different ways. We choose to make fun of them, but it would have been easy to get annoyed (which would have ruined our evening) or to complain (to them and/or the staff) which could have ruined everyone’s evening. There were no spare tables to move to, and having said something, to then be stuck next to them for the rest of the evening would have been awkward at best, and dangerous at worst. I suspect the staff realised what was going on, which explains how they unexpectedly produced a second dessert for us, without being asked and without charging us for it!

Of course the good thing was that after enduring an hour of their rather selfish behaviour, we got to leave.

What happens when you can’t just up and leave an obnoxious neighbour, particularly one that you are sharing a space with, such as a shared driveway or entrance?

Neighbour disputes are unpopular amongst solicitors, because the parties (both sides) can often be entrenched in their position, long before they take legal advice. What’s more, whilst there are lots of options available to us, they are rarely cost effective and can often make things worse, not better. For example, if I issue legal proceedings against your ex employer, you’re highly unlikely to cross paths with them ever again, other than possibly in court. If I issue proceedings against your neighbour, there’s a reasonable chance they’re going to be knocking on your door the following day, or at least glaring at you every time they pass you in the street. Even if the matter is resolved (amicably or otherwise) the trouble can continue. For example, did you know that if you are or have been in dispute with your neighbour, you may have to disclose it to any future purchaser of your property which might put them off buying.

My advice to those of you who may not get on with your neighbours includes:

  1. Consider whether your response is proportionate – I know your home is your castle, but I often see arguments over a few centimetres of garden. It might be better in the long run to let them keep it, so long as you get confirmation that that is the end of it and they won’t take anything more.
  2. Try talking to them rather than arguing with them, at least to start off with.
  3. Take legal advice BEFORE you take any action. Often by the time solicitors are involved, you’ve reached the point of no return.
  4. Consider going to mediation at the earliest opportunity. There are some great people around who specialise in property/boundary disputes who can be very helpful and cost effective.
  5. Get an expert in. If you think someone is too loud, or that the boundary is wrong, get someone in who can say for certain if you are right or not. In fact, you can take that a step further and invite your neighbour to join in the process of getting an expert in, and agreeing to split the cost and that each side will agree to be bound by whatever the expert says.

My advice to those of you who like French food is ask me for a list of my top recommendations, but make sure you have your phone fully charged in case you need to text your companion.

Kleyman & Co Solicitors. The full service law firm. Feeding you good legal advice.