7 minute read
The Real Cost of Neighbourhood Disputes
Hillyer McKeown win substantial damages in harassment case for local residents
Ben and Eleanor Allen thought they had bought their dream project house in the country when they moved into their first home in Malpas in 2012. The seller, Ms Griffith, retained the neighbouring property, and all was well for around a year. However, once the couple started building works at the property, including constructing large gates, Ms Griffith’s behaviour became increasingly erratic. She would stand in the bushes along the boundary to the two properties, watching the couple and taking photographs of them and their building works. She would block the driveway over which the couple had a right of way and, in the Allens’ words, was a ‘constant presence’, particularly when Mr Allen was working away.
Criminal conviction for harassment
The couple installed CCTV in 2014 due to their concerns as to Ms Griffith’s behaviour, and contacted the police, who advised them to keep a harassment diary. Events came to a head in October 2014 when Eleanor’s parents’ border terrier briefly escaped on to the shared driveway. Ms Griffith threatened to shoot the dog, went inside and got an air rifle, which she fired into the couple’s yard. In July 2015, Ms Griffith was convicted of harassment and firing an air weapon beyond premises. The judge made a permanent restraining order preventing Ms Griffith from communicating with the Allens, or taking photographs of their property. Despite this, Ms Griffith subsequently breached the order by sending the Allens a note about their new dog, and was again convicted on pleading guilty to the offence.
By this time the Allens had learned that, despite Ms Griffith having confirmed that there had been no disputes with neighbours in the pre-contract enquiries on sale of the property, Ms Griffith had in fact been involved in two other disputes spanning a decade, both involving substantial litigation and similar behaviour to that faced by the Allens. One of the neighbours concerned gave moving evidence at trial that Ms Griffith had ‘made their lives hell’, and that her children still referred to her as ‘the witch in the ditch’. Ms Griffith’s behaviour had had a significant physical and mental effect on all those involved.
Effect of neighbourhood disputes on the price of a property
The Allens were aware that the two previous disputes and their own case involving a criminal prosecution would need to be disclosed on any future sale. Even if their property sold, they were highly unlikely to achieve full market value. In addition, Ms Griffith’s failure to disclose the previous disputes meant that the Allens had not had the opportunity to negotiate their own reduction on the full asking price they paid, or contact the neighbours involved in the disputes to make an informed decision as to whether they wished to buy the house at all.
Damages claim for harassment
In January 2017, the Allens issued civil proceedings against Ms Griffith for damages for harassment and misrepresentation. Somewhat surprisingly in view of her conviction, Ms Griffith not only defended the claim, but counterclaimed for damages for harassment herself, maintaining that it was actually the Allens who had harassed her. She also claimed that the Allens’ new gates were on her land, and sought £68,750 in damages in respect of the Allens having created ‘openings’ in the roof (a small pane of glass allowing daylight for a sun pipe and a flashing for a flue pipe) in breach of a covenant agreed on the sale.
The Court ruling on the dispute
After a four day trial in October 2018, the Court gave judgment soundly in favour of the Allens, ordering Ms Griffith to pay them £87,312.50 in damages, representing a 27.5% reduction in value of their property, and an £85,000 interim payment towards budgeted costs of over £140,000. Ms Griffith was also found liable for fraudulent misrepresentation in relation to the failure to disclose the previous disputes. The counterclaim was dismissed.
Fiona Blakeborough, Hillyer McKeown’s Head of Commercial Litigation, who represented the Allens said:
“I am thrilled with the result. I have seen first hand how Ms Griffith’s conduct affected a perfectly normal couple excited to be buying their first home together. The evidence given by Eleanor, Ben and their neighbour at trial would have brought most people to tears. The fact that the couple wanted to move, but were trapped due to the financial implications of what had happened, was a reminder of the very real cost of neighbour disputes.
It is important that people are aware that in what was admittedly an extreme case, remedies do exist to deal with problem neighbours.”
Does this story sound familiar to you or someone you know?
Then please contact us before the situation gets any worse. We offer an initial free, no obligation conversation about the dispute you might be facing. If we can help you we can then advise you about the process, cost and how long it might take to sort out your dispute. Contact us by email or phone our team.