Aussie’s bitter dispute with rude neighbour
Welcome to Sisters In Law, news.com.au's weekly column solving all of your legal problems. This week, our resident lawyers and real-life sisters Alison and Jillian Barrett from Maurice Blackburn tackle your legal rights when it comes to neighbourhood disputes.
QUESTION: I'm currently in what is fast becoming quite a bitter dispute with my neighbours. We live on a battleaxe block. Our house is at the front, their house is at the back, and our shared driveway goes directly past one side of my house. Despite having adequate parking next to their garage, the neighbours insist on parking both their cars right outside my living room windows, in the middle of the shared part of the driveway. When I have politely asked them to park elsewhere, they've said that as I don't use that part of the driveway to access my property, it's theirs to do what they want with. What are my rights when it comes to shared driveways? - Mary, NSW
ANSWER: It is difficult to know, from your question, what type of land the shared driveway is on or what arrangements, if any, may be in place to outline your legal rights.
Most battleaxe blocks allow legal access to the back block because a private easement is in place.
When land is subdivided and there are difficulties accessing the land, it is usually the case that easements need to be in place before the land can be registered properly.
You should undertake a Title search with the NSW Land Registry Services for both yours and your neighbour's property. This Title search will confirm if an easement is in place.
An easement is an interest attached to land that gives another landowner (your neighbour) a right to use part of that land for a specific purpose (in your case, a driveway to access a property).
Where there is an easement, it also prevents the owner of the land from using the property in whatever way they want to (for example, building a deck on the land affected by the easement).
Under the law your neighbours, as they have the benefit of the easement to access their home, is known as the dominant tenement. Your block at the front is the servient tenement as you have the burden of the easement.
The law says that your neighbour can use the easement to pass across your property to enter their property.
The key words here are "pass across" - it doesn't give your neighbour possession of the driveway.
Your neighbour should only be using the driveway for the short period it takes to drive or walk across it to enter their property and they should definitely not be parking their car there.
The law also says that when they are passing across they should be doing so in a way that causes you as little inconvenience as practical - revving their engine or honking their horn would not be acceptable.
If you are tempted to park your car on the driveway to block your neighbour in, think again.
The law also governs your conduct - you can't prevent or hinder your neighbour from using the driveway by obstructing access.
If there isn't an easement in place, it becomes a matter for you and your neighbour to resolve through a civil action.
Obviously any dispute like this is best resolved informally and amicably, especially when you have to live right next door to each other.
If politely pointing out the law to them doesn't work, put it in writing with a firm request that they stop parking on the driveway.
Also outline how the location of their parked car affects your ability to use your property (your view out the lounge room window or the lack of privacy it causes).
If your neighbour is renting, you should provide a copy of this letter to the landlord also, with a request that they intervene.
There are Community Justice Centres throughout NSW that provide a free and confidential service to assist with mediating disputes between neighbours just like this.
If these steps don't work, you'll likely need to bring legal action in court against your neighbour which can be very costly.
You can seek an injunction which is an order that prevents them from parking on the driveway.
You may also be able to sue for private nuisance, on the basis that they are interfering with your enjoyment of your home.
If things escalate and you ever feel unsafe, you should always call Triple 0 in an emergency.
This legal information is general in nature and should not be regarded as specific legal advice or relied upon. Persons requiring particular legal advice should consult a solicitor.
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