Friday, July 02, 2010
Breakdown in neighbourly relations
I have several cases open at the moment where relations between next-door neighbours have completely broken down.
Often the problem has begun with a single incident where tempers have flared and this has then developed into a situation where both sides begin to actively focus on the relationship and to bring it under an intense spotlight. They pay attention to each other’s movements and start to talk about this relationship with other neighbours, family and friends.
Initially, they perceive relatively innocent activities on the part of their neighbours as hostile – she is deliberately letting her child’s ball damage my flowers (when that is not the case). However later this does develop into deliberate acts intended to annoy or punish for imagined or real slights (blocking the car on the drive, saying negative things in a loud voice in the garden, encouraging the children to kick the ball against the party wall) etc. And this will develop into altercations in the street, shouting and possibly some physical contact.
Inevitably both sides seek some sort of redress on the grounds that their nerves cannot now stand it, that their lives are a misery and someone has got to do something .
This is usually where a RSL/Housing Association would come into the picture, if either party are tenants. They will offer what support they can to resolve the situation, including mediation but in my experience it is hard to get neighbours to take up this option. And when this fails, this seems to be when I or my colleagues are contacted.
It is hard to know what to do for the best. Where one side is clearly at fault and the other relatively innocent then moves can be made through LASBU (the council’s anti-social behaviour unit) or the RSL where appropriate, but where both sides are clearly equally at fault, where it is six of one and half a dozen of the other, this approach is a waste of a precious resource.
Do we address the elephant in the room and tell the neighbours that both sides are behaving badly and that they need to become responsible and thoughtful and act like adults?
And is that something an elected representative is ever likely to want to say to a constituent?
Do we tell the neighbours that one of them will have to move house, that there is no other answer? Do we offer to facilitate that move? Do we prioritise the need? Where would it come in the order of need?
Do we tell the neighbours that we cannot help them any further and that they are on their own and refuse to take any further calls?
If we wish to take the latter option, should we carry out the appropriate risk assessment to try to ensure that such a withdrawal would not result in a violent and/or criminal act? Presumably we would want to ensure that we could not be found culpable if something very serious occurred after we had effectively washed our hands? But also we would not want to walk away if we could prevent a serious incident.
Who would carry out such a risk assessment and on what basis?
Do we have a responsibility to just keep on trying? And using what other methods?
What does your organisation do? How do you deal with this?
Working with cases like these are taking up hours of our time as councillors, we are not making progress, the situation is not easing, it is intensely frustrating for everyone concerned. However, the calls and the emails continue to come at all hours of the day and night.
I also believe that the financial strains our communities are now facing and which will get very much worse quite soon I suspect, many more cases are likely to fetch up in my mailbox as nerves are taut.
I would really welcome some responses, privately if you prefer, to this discussion item