What if the neighbors harass us

Neighborhood dispute: What are the neighbors allowed to do - and what not?

The dog barks all day long, the smell of lunch wafts through the stairwell, the branches of the tree hang over the fence - there are many reasons for a neighborhood dispute. Regardless of whether they are tenants or homeowners - most of them have already experienced such disputes.

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We'll show you what you need to know about the most common reasons for disputes. And how you can resolve a neighborhood dispute without it escalating.

Please note that this article does not constitute legal advice. He's not a substitute for a lawyer. Even if we have researched with great care, all information is without guarantee.

Noise pollution: what is the neighbor allowed to do?

One of the most common reasons for neighborhood fights is noise. There are no nationwide regulations governing when rest periods are to be observed. Some of them differ from municipality to municipality or state to state. However, the following times serve as a guide:

  • Night rest: from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
  • Sundays and public holidays: rest all day

Sometimes there is a midday rest from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and a Saturday rest period from 7 p.m. In order to find out the exact times in your place of residence, it is best to inquire with your municipality or city administration.

During these rest periods, you are only allowed to carry out all activities at room volume. What that means? As a rough guide, you can assume 40 decibels during the day and 30 decibels at night. However, courts decide on a case-by-case basis.

Also, it doesn't mean that you can make as much noise as you want outside of quiet times.

Noise pollution from music and parties

There is no right to loud parties - not even on a birthday. This was determined by the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court in 1990 (Az. 5 Ss (OWi) 475/89 - (OWi) 197/89 I).

However, amateur or professional musicians are allowed to play their instrument for two to three hours on working days and one to two hours on Sundays or public holidays, as defined by the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) 2018 (Az. VZR 143/17).

Noise from screaming children

In principle, children are allowed to be loud. Anything else would be against their nature. German courts see it that way too.

However, neighbors do not have to endure raging and screaming children without restrictions. In 2017, the BGH ruled that neighbors can demand a word of power from their parents if the children are raging until late in the evening and there is no intervention (AZ VIII ZR 226/16).

Noise pollution from barking dogs

Persistent barking of dogs is also always a reason for neighborhood disputes. Basically, the dog is allowed to bark.

However, the neighbors don't have to accept everything here either. Dog owners must keep their animals in such a way that the disturbances and impairments remain within the framework of what is socially acceptable by neighbors (for example Bremen District Court, 2006, Az. 7 C 240/2005).

In other decisions, the total period in which dogs are allowed to bark is set at half an hour a day (Oberlandesgericht Hamm, 1988, Az. 22 and 265/87). It's questionable whether "Milo, you've had your 30 minutes, it's over" works.

Mowing the lawn, drilling, washing clothes

Statutory times for mowing the lawn are specified in the Equipment and Machine Noise Protection Ordinance in the Federal Immission Control Ordinance. Accordingly, the neighbor is allowed to mow his lawn from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays. In some cases, however, there are special regulations in individual municipalities. The same goes for leaf blowers, power saws and drills.

You don't have to keep quiet times at the washing machine (Higher Regional Court Cologne, 1999, Az. 16 Wx 165/00).

Here you can find out everything you need to know about noise pollution.

Neighborhood dispute due to odor nuisance

Odors can also become extremely unpleasant and lead to neighborhood disputes. Basically, dishes differentiate between reasonable and unreasonable smells. Whether odors are acceptable depends on their duration and intensity. Dishes also take into account how often an unpleasant smell occurs.

According to established jurisprudence, odors in outdoor areas must not be perceived more than ten to 15 percent of the year. This is different in sparsely populated rural regions. There it is 20 to 25 percent.

Food smells

Sure, smells arise when cooking. In principle, every neighbor can cook what he wants. Nobody can tell him which foods or spices he can use for it.

The Essen District Court issued a general judgment on such a neighborhood dispute in 1999. According to this, the smell of cooking and food from the neighboring apartment must generally be tolerated by all tenants, only extreme pollution can be objected to. When the extreme case occurs, however, must be considered individually (Az. 10 S 491/98).

However, if the odor nuisance arises due to poor or structurally unavoidable seals, this can be a reason for a rent reduction, as the Aachen District Court found (Az.12 C 478/93).

Cigarette smoke

Smokers must generally ensure that they take simple and reasonable measures to prevent their neighbors from being harmed by cigarette smoke. The Berlin Regional Court pointed this out in a 2017 judgment (Az. 65 S 362/16).

If the cigarette smoke causes an unacceptable odor nuisance, even termination of the lease without notice can be justified (Düsseldorf District Court, 2013 Az. 24 C 1355/13).

Smells from pets

Smells from animals can also be an unacceptable odor nuisance. For example, dog waste in the stairwell justifies a rent reduction of 20 percent, as the Münster District Court decided in 1995 (LG Essen ZMR 2000, 302).

Dog or cat urine is also regularly classified by courts as an unreasonable nuisance.

Garbage stink

Garbage has a particularly bad smell. If an unacceptable stench emanates from a neglected garbage dump, tenants can reduce their rent, as the district court Berlin-Lichtenberg decided in 2004 (Az. 6 C 239/03).

Rural smells

Anyone who moves to the countryside should not complain that there is a smell of land there too. Liquid manure, Odel or smells from animal fattening farms are to be accepted there. Among other things, this was the verdict of the North Rhine-Westphalia Higher Administrative Court in 2015 in a case about a facility for keeping broiler poultry (Az. 8 A 1577/14).

Neighborhood dispute: which regulations apply to barbecuing?

Even the Germans' favorite summer leisure activity is always a cause for neighborhood disputes. When grilling, it is not only possible unpleasant smells that reach the neighbors. Smoke and soot can also be annoying. And last but not least, there is often noise pollution from barbecuing on the balcony or in the garden.

Where and when can tenants have a barbecue?

Different rules apply to tenants when grilling than to homeowners. First of all, you should take a look at your house rules. Often there are rules for grilling noted there.

In general, if you live in an apartment building, you are not necessarily allowed to grill as often as you want. The top priority is that neighbors must not be impaired.

The decisions of the courts as to how often you can grill are quite contradicting:

  • According to the Schöneberg District Court, tenants are allowed to grill for two hours 20 to 25 times a year (Az. 3C 14/07).
  • The Stuttgart Regional Court is of the opinion that six hours per year on the terrace are acceptable (Az. 10 T 359/96).
  • If the district court of Bonn has its way, barbecuing on the terrace or balcony is allowed a maximum of once a month from April to September if the neighbors are informed 48 hours in advance (Az. 6 C 545/96).
  • The Hamburg District Court even generally prohibited an open fire with a charcoal grill on a balcony in a rented apartment in 1972 (Az. 40 C 229/72).
  • Landlords may even generally prohibit barbecuing on the balcony - and therefore also terminate a tenant in the event of multiple violations. That was decided by the Essen Regional Court in 2002 (Az. 10 S 438/01).

Basically, you should use an electric grill in a rented apartment because it generates far less smoke and unpleasant smells. So you can avoid a neighborhood dispute in advance.

How are homeowners allowed to barbecue?

Anyone who has their own apartment or house is in principle freer to grill. But even if there is no lease in the way, not everyone is allowed to grill on their own property when and how they want. Here, too, consideration must be given to the neighbors.

  • In 1999, for example, the Bavarian Supreme Court ruled that owners were only allowed to set up the grill at the far end of the garden, 25 meters from the house. Grilling with charcoal must therefore also be limited to a maximum of five times a year (Az.BayObLG 2 ZBR 6/99).
  • In 2002, the Oldenburg Higher Regional Court ruled that neighbors had to put up with nightly barbecues until midnight four times a year (Az. 13 U 53/02).
  • In an apartment owner community, barbecuing may also be prohibited or restricted. This was the verdict of the Munich Regional Court in 2013 (Az. 36 S 8058/12).

In some federal states there are also state laws that restrict barbecuing. For example, according to the State Immission Control Act of North Rhine-Westphalia, barbecuing is only allowed if it takes place occasionally and is limited in time.

Neighborhood dispute over trees, bushes and hedges

The branches of the fruit tree protrude over the fence, the neighbour's hedge grows or the leaves of the neighboring trees clog the rain gutter: Trees and hedges on property boundaries also repeatedly lead to arguments between neighbors.

Where can I plant?

In principle, every federal state has its own neighborhood law. The regulations on how close certain plants can be to the property line vary from state to state. The type of regulation is also different:

  • Hessen, for example, divides plants into three categories, from vigorous to small. Vigorously growing shrubs and trees must therefore be planted at a greater distance from the property line than less vigorous ones.
  • The distance is regulated similarly in North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg.
  • In Bavaria, Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, the following generally applies: the higher the height of a plant, the further the distance to the property of the neighbor must be.

In addition, the state laws often differentiate between trees, hedge plants and flowers such as sunflowers. The minimum distance does not apply to perennials and flowers - but it does to bamboo. Even if, from a botanical point of view, it is one of the grasses. According to a ruling by the Schwetzingen District Court, bamboo is to be classified as a woody neighbor (Az. 51 C 39/00).

Who is responsible for editing?

Basically, whoever owns the tree or hedge must also take care of it. This also includes regular pruning of many trees.

If branches, twigs or roots grow into the neighboring property, the neighbor can defend themselves against it. According to the German Civil Code (BGB), this applies if the branches represent an impairment (Section 910 BGB). In 2019, the BGH ruled that the neighbor is entitled to pruning if the property is impaired by falling leaves, needles or cones from a protruding branch. It does not matter whether this impairment is "local" (Az. V ZR 102/18).

However, this does not justify claims for injunctive relief or compensation, as the Dortmund Regional Court ruled in 2010 (Az. 3 O 140/10).

However, the claim can become statute-barred. In 2019, the Federal Court of Justice ruled that the state law of Baden-Württemberg does not rule out the limitation of this claim. The regular period of three years applies there (Az. V ZR 136/18). In other federal states, a period of five years applies.

However, you should not take action yourself just because the plant bothers you. First of all, you have to give the neighbor a reasonable deadline to resolve the situation. If he does not act, legal recourse is the safest option.

Often the courts decide that self-help is absolutely permissible in such cases (for example Regional Court Munich 1, 2001. Az. 15 S 7927/00). However, if the tree dies due to improper pruning, the owner can be entitled to compensation (Landgericht Coburg, 2006, Az. 32 S 83/06).

However, if the tree or plant is under nature protection, there is no entitlement to pruning. The Koblenz Regional Court ruled in 2007 that the overhanging branches of a red beech must be tolerated because the tree is under nature protection (Az. 6 S 162/06).

Who does the fruit belong to?

You are not allowed to simply pick fruit from the neighboring tree - even if its twigs and branches protrude onto your property. Because whoever owns the plant also owns its fruits. Legally, if you pick the fruit, it is theft. In this case, the neighbors are also allowed to reach over your property line to harvest the fruits.

The situation is different if the fruit falls on your property because it is ripe. Because the fallen fruits belong to the person on whose parcel they fall, according to Paragraph 911 sentence 1 BGB. In this case, the neighbor would commit theft when he picks up the fruit on your property.

You are not allowed to help by shaking the tree. If the windfall from the neighboring tree is a nuisance for you, you can ask the neighbor to remove it.

Who has to clear the leaves?

Foliage from neighboring trees is a reasonable nuisance. The courts regularly see this as a customary or insignificant, reasonable contamination. Even if rain gutters or sewers are blocked by the leaves, you have no claims here.

A so-called leaf rent - an amount that has to be paid regularly for the removal of leaves - is almost always rejected by the courts.

There is an exception if the trees are planted too close to the property line. The BGH decided in 2017 that a neighbor has no right to the pruning of the trees (the claim was statute-barred), but a regular leaf rent is to be paid because the trees are too close to the property line (Az. V ZR 8 / 17).

Neighborhood dispute over property boundaries

Questions about the property line also regularly lead to neighborhood disputes.

Do I have to fence in my property?

In principle, there is no nationwide mandatory enclosure in Germany. There are in Baden-Württemberg (outside of localities), Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. You have to enclose your property there if the neighbor demands it.

There are no regulations on fencing in Bavaria, Bremen, Hamburg, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

However, every property owner has the right to erect a fence on his property (Paragraph 903 BGB) in order to protect himself from unauthorized entry.

Who builds the enclosure?

This is also regulated differently from state to state. The states differentiated between a common enclosure and a legal enclosure. At the request of the neighbors, the right side of the property as seen from the street must be fenced in. Each neighbor takes care of his or her right side. This will distribute the costs evenly.

The type of enclosure chosen also depends on the federal state, sometimes also on the municipality. In principle, a distinction is made between dead fencing (fence, wall) and living fencing (hedge). Usually a local fencing of 1.20 meters to 1.25 meters is defined. A fence several meters high, also used as a privacy screen on the property line, does not have to be accepted.

The same applies to hedges, which you can plant as the property line. However, only on your own property if you do not agree with the neighbor. As a rule, the following applies here: the higher the hedge, the greater the distance to the neighboring property must be.

For the material and height of the fencing, the development plan of a municipality is decisive. He prescribes what is allowed and what is not. The same applies to the privacy screen.

What is the traffic safety obligation?

As the owner, you are responsible for the condition of your property. Therefore you are also liable for dangers according to Paragraph 823 BGB if you allow traffic on your property. So then, if you haven't fenced it in.

For example, if there is a pond on your property that children could fall into, you should secure your property. Otherwise you could be liable for any resulting damage.

In addition, the following applies: trespassing is only entering someone else's property if it is fenced in (Section 123 of the Criminal Code).

Optical design: What is the neighbor allowed to do?

Not everything that you like will necessarily please your neighbors. That is why there are rules here as to what you are allowed to attach or design to your balcony, facade or garden and what not.

Balcony design

According to a judgment of the Münster District Court in 2001, for example, you are not allowed to attach heavy plastic curtains to the balcony as sun protection (Az. 48 C 2357/01).

Flower boxes that are attached to the outside of the balcony railing can also give rise to neighborhood disputes. Here, a uniform design of the residential complex must be placed above the owner's special right of use, as the Bavarian Supreme Court decided (Az. 2Z BR 20/01).

The visual impairment caused by a parabolic antenna also does not have to be tolerated. The BGH ruled in 2004 that this must only be accepted if it is attached to the floor of the balcony without a fixed connection to the floor and hidden from view (Az. VIII ZR 207/04).

Paint the facade

There are also some regulations regarding the color of the facade. If your house is vacant, you can usually choose the color yourself - unless the municipality stipulates a certain design. In the Bavarian town of Oberhaching, for example, all plastered surfaces have to be painted white.

If you are a member of an apartment owners association or own a terraced house, you also have to coordinate your facade design. Often there are regulations about the color of the facade. Even the color of the front door or the window frame can be regulated.

Unmowed lawn, garden gnomes and flagpole

The design of the garden is basically a matter for the owner. So the unmowed lawn of the neighbor has to be accepted.

The same applies to garden gnomes, for whom there have already been several legal disputes:

  • If the dwarfs are very large or make insulting gestures, that is not to be accepted. The district court of Grünstadt ruled in 1994 in the case of a garden gnome who shows the middle finger that the dwarf must be removed (Az. 2a C 334/93).
  • The situation is different if the dwarf owner connects the middle finger and decorates it with a flower. Then no violation of the right of personality can be determined, as the Elze District Court found in 1999 (Az. 4 C 210/99).
  • Garden gnomes that are not offensive may also be set up in a community garden, as the Hamburg-Harburg District Court ruled in 1985 (Az 610a II 17/85).

The neighbor also has to put up with a football club flag placed in the garden - even if the club does not appeal to him. The Arnsberg Administrative Court ruled in 2012 that such a flagpole is not alien to residential areas and does not constitute illegal advertising (Az. 8 K 1679/12).

In principle, flagpoles up to a height of ten meters do not have to be approved. However, other rules apply to flags advertising their own business. In addition, a flag blowing in the wind can cause loud noises. These can be regarded as noise nuisance.

Common areas in rental houses

However, other rules apply to tenants - at least when designing communal areas. Tenants are not entitled to put up lavish design arrangements in an apartment building. This was the verdict of the Münster District Court in 2008 (Az. 38 C 1858/08).

Neighborhood dispute: cleverly resolve conflicts with neighbors

Not every dispute has to escalate or end in court. Many conflicts can be resolved peacefully through discussion. After all, it is often the case that the neighbors stay neighbors even longer - even if they are a nuisance.

We want to give you a few tips on how you can cleverly resolve conflicts with your neighbors. Ordered by escalation level.

1. Inform

First of all, it helps to find out whether the disorder is actually a disorder. Have a look at your house rules, ask the municipality or city administration what the neighbor is actually allowed to do and where there are regulations. This article should be a good starting point.

It also helps to keep a diary of certain impairments. For example, if the neighbor is regularly too loud, you can show this with the help of a noise log.

2. Find the conversation

After you have informed yourself, you should first have a conversation. It is important - and more productive for your cause - if you remain calm, objective and friendly.

It makes sense here if you present your point of view and describe the impairment. If you don't know your neighbors at all or have not known them for a long time, please do not assume that they are intentional or malicious. Often the neighbor is not even aware that his behavior is bothering someone. So first inform him in a friendly manner before you threaten the police or a lawyer.

3. Switch on third party

If the conversation didn't get you anywhere, it can help to get neutral third parties involved in a neighborhood dispute. A mediator can, for example, mediate between two conflicting parties when the fronts have hardened.

Often, different realities of life collide, which lead to a dispute. For example, a family with young children has different needs than a pensioner living alone. A mediator may be able to reach a compromise here.

4. Engage the landlord

Tenants always have the option of calling in the landlord. You should do that even if you get stuck yourself. Because the landlord can warn the neighbors and even terminate them in the event of very annoying, permanent impairment.

In addition, if you involve the landlord, you have another tool at hand: You can reduce the rent - even if the deficiency that justifies the reduction comes from a neighbor.

However, you should first announce the rent reduction and give the landlord a reasonable period of time to remedy the defect. You can only actually reduce the rent if he does not comply with the request. The rent reduction table provides a good indication of how much you can reduce the rent.

5. Call in the police or the public order office

If you live in property or the landlord cannot do anything against an unruly neighbor, then you still have to call in the police or the public order office. You can at least do that if the neighbors commit an administrative offense. For example at a party: if they are so loud that they do not respond to your ringing, then this can be the last resort.

However, this step marks a very high level on the escalation scale. You should thoroughly reconsider this step if you are actually interested in a good neighborly relationship.

6. Lawsuit

The last step is that of a lawsuit. Sometimes a dispute can only be resolved in court. But it should also be clear to you that such a dispute can drag on for years and be very expensive - especially if it goes through several instances. That is not exactly beneficial for neighborly peace.

Often, however, a lawsuit in a neighborhood dispute is only possible if an out-of-court dispute settlement has failed beforehand. Mediation or the way through an arbitration tribunal are usually much cheaper than a lawsuit. You will find the right contact person at the German Institution for Arbitration.