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Expat Q&A: How to manage neighbourhood annoyances in Brussels
Balancing people’s rights and duties can be tricky, especially when it comes to neighbours… Noise from the flat next door or your neighbour’s tree which blocks sunlight… What are neighbourhood annoyances? Who is responsible? And how do you resolve disputes? The Expat Welcome Desk has the lowdown!
What is a neighbourhood annoyance?
- Legal definition
Articles 3.101 and 3.102 of the new Civil Code now serve as the legal basis for this issue. Neighbourhood annoyance occurs when the following three criteria are met:
· An imbalance;
· Excessive annoyance (by an action, omission, or event) caused to the neighbour;
· The annoyance must be attributable to the person who is held liable.
Who are your ‘neighbours’?
· Any individual who has a legal right of ownership;
· Usufructuaries, superficiaries, and tenants in accordance with their personal or property rights;
· Business owners, if the neighbourhood annoyance is related to a transfer in the contract concluded with the owner of a property or if they have obtained the right to build or convert a property (as this generally involves an assumption of all the related rights and duties).
- A change in the Civil Code: preventive action
- Different types of annoyances
As stipulated in Article 3.102 of the new Civil Code, “if an immovable property causes serious and obvious risks, either in terms of health, safety, or pollution to a neighbouring immovable property”, the owner or tenant of the property who is likely to suffer damage may take preventive action by starting court proceedings, eg., a party wall that is in bad condition, posing a risk in terms of stability.
Neighbourhood annoyances, which are in some cases cumulative, may occur during the day (daytime annoyance) or at night (night-time annoyance). Three different types exist:
· Odour nuisance;
· Visual nuisance (including lighting problems).
· Noise nuisance (due to behaviour or activities);
Please note: in the Brussels-Capital Region, the decree of 21 November 2002 (on the fight against neighbourhood noise) sets out which sources of noise fall under this decree and the maximum noise thresholds for any audible noise (noisy installation or activity) to be respected. This list serves as a reference that neighbours in the vicinity of this source of noise must use to demonstrate that the noise is causing neighbourhood annoyance. Different thresholds apply depending on several criteria:
· The place where the annoyance is perceived (in or outside the building, type of premises)
· time of day
· day of the week
· the designated use of the area under the Plan Régional d’Affectation du Sol (Regional Designated Land Use Plan).
How to prove there is annoyance?
This can be proven by any legal means, including witness statements, letters, photos, a police report…
How to resolve the issue?
As a tenant, you cannot take legal action against your landlord in case of neighbourhood annoyance as the latter is not obliged to cover actual annoyance under the lease.
If, however, the annoyance is due to a hidden defect of the property or to non-urgent work performed during the time that you are a tenant, you may be able to hold your landlord liable.
As a landlord, you are not normally responsible for neighbourhood annoyance caused by your tenant. You should, however, note that any annoyance caused by your tenant might cause you damage in the long term (complaints from neighbours, reputation damage, deterioration in relations with neighbours, or even legal proceedings against you). You must therefore ensure that your tenant respects the building’s internal policy and the basic rules of living together. If you are notified of any neighbourhood annoyance caused by your tenant, you should contact them to inform them of the issue and find an amicable way of resolving the issue. We recommend that you do this in writing to ensure you have proof.
As with any dispute, the first way to resolve it is to find an amicable way of settling the issue with your neighbour.
If, however, the problem remains unresolved, we recommend starting mediation. Mediation is voluntary when initiated by both parties concerned by the issue. The mediator (a third party) will help you find a solution that works for you both. The judge or notary can make this agreement binding (through a judgement or deed) if you request this. This incurs a charge.
Another way of resolving the dispute (the last step before the justice of the peace) is to begin conciliation proceedings. This simple, free procedure can even be requested verbally, at the court registry. The judge will then help the two parties involved to find a solution to their problem, recording this solution in a written document that is equivalent to a judgement.
The last option for resolving neighbourhood annoyance is to lodge a complaint with the justice of the peace, who will analyse the situation to ‘determine whether the annoyance is excessive’.
The judge may order that various types of measures be taken to restore the balance that has been disrupted by the initial annoyance:
- by awarding damages as compensation for the annoyance;
- by requiring the financing of compensatory measures (eg, the owner of a pub must pay for the insulation of his establishment to ensure the music causes less nuisance to neighbours);
- by ordering that the act causing the annoyance ceases provided that this does not cause a new imbalance.
What about night-time annoyance?
Night-time annoyance is a prime cause of neighbourhood annoyance that is regulated and punishable. The law states that you may not cause any noise or annoyance at night, by any means and in any form whatsoever, from 22.00 in the evening until 6.00in the morning. This includes shouting and human voices, engine and machine noise, music, barking dogs, etc.
Complaints should be made to the police (101).
Communes can impose administrative fines for night-time annoyance in their general police regulations (which are published on the commune’s website), which specify the hours for night-time annoyance. Civil penalties (imposed by the justice of the peace) and criminal penalties may also apply.
The Expat Welcome Desk is a free service that advises internationals on the practicalities of daily life in the Belgian capital, from accommodation and residence permits to employment rights and taxation, among a number of topics.