February 9, 2017
“Nuisance usually involves repeated infringement of the Plaintiff’s property rights. An objective weighing up of the interests of the various parties, taking into account all the relevant circumstances is required in these matters” (from judgment below)
If the dog-next-door’s incessant barking is destroying your quality of life, read on. A recent High Court case illustrates our law’s approach to protecting you from noisy neighbours generally.
The Chihuahua’s Tale
- In a rustic township development boasting a wide variety of free-roaming wild animals (giraffe, kudu, warthog and the like), a management rule provided that no pets or farm animals were allowed in any public place, street or private property
- However the owners’ committee granted special permission to a resident, who had been left temporarily homebound after a car accident, to keep a miniature chihuahua. That permission came with a warning that it could be withdrawn if complaints were received
- When the neighbours did indeed complain of continual barking from early in the morning, the committee duly revoked its permission to keep the dog. It then applied to Court to interdict the dog’s owner (and his mother, a fellow occupant of the house) from keeping the dog
- The Court was unable to decide a dispute around whether or not the occupants were bound by the management rule in question. Nevertheless it granted the interdict on the general principles of nuisance, commenting that the neighbours “are entitled to the peaceful and undisturbeduse of their property and the enjoyment of the nature thereof” and that the occupants “may not exercise their rights of enjoyment of their property including their ownership of a pet in such a manner or fashion that it encroaches on neighbours’ (in the broad sense) rights”
- However, swayed no doubt by reports of the resident’s fragile mental state (including a possible suicide attempt) the Court made the interdict a conditional one – the dog can stay provided it is kept inside the house and is not left unattended, and provided the owner takes “active steps” to ensure that it doesn’t become a nuisance to other owners.
4 things to try before you rush off to court
- Taking the legal route without warning will probably be seen by the dog’s owner as a declaration of war, and there will be no winners there. So start off with a friendly approach. Aim for a win-win scenario with help from a step-by-step advice article like WikiHow’s “How to Deal With a Neighbor’s Barking Dog” here.
- If that proves fruitless, a “neighbours at war” nightmare is still avoidable if you can agree on mediation or arbitration – ask your lawyer to arrange it. If you live or work in a “community scheme” like a sectional title or Home Owners Association development, apply for low-cost dispute adjudication by the new Community Schemes Ombud Services.
- Or you can ask your local municipality to help by enforcing whatever by-laws it has to regulate the keeping of animals, excessive barking, unreasonable noise etc.
- SAPS usually responds only to serious violations of our anti-noise laws but if you can arrange for a warning visit from a blue uniform that might solve your problem once and for all.
Going to court should be a last resort – here’s how the Judge in this case began his judgment: “It is to be deprecated that a High Court is burdened with such a dispute as the present one and it is equally deplorable that the parties cannot themselves resolve an issue of this nature”. Getting on the wrong side of a tetchy Judge is never going to be a smart move.
Whatever you do, don’t suffer in silence – our law will help you!