It is often said (by lawyers if no-one else) that neighbour disputes are amongst the most intractable cases to deal with, and that regardless of the outcome there is no winner. The Court of Appeal heard an appeal recently, the case of Raymond and anr v Young and anr, which illustrates that maxim in spades. It also confirms that a neighbours dispute can lead to a hefty award of damages to reflect the blighting effect of a neighbour from hell on the value of a property.
It was an appeal by the defendants, Mr and Mrs Young, against an award of £155,000 for the diminution in value of their neighbours’ property caused by their acts of harassment and nuisance. Mr and Mrs Raymond own Lin Cragg Farm at Blawith in Cumbria. Their neighbours were and still are Mr and Mrs Young, who own Lynn Cragg Cottage. Both properties were originally owned by Mr Young’s father but in 1965, following his retirement, Mr Young’s father sold off most of the Farm, with the exception of the Cottage. The Farm was sold to a variety of owners, and eventually bought by Mr and Mrs Raymond for £600,000 in 2009.
This lead to a chain of events that no-one could have foreseen. At the original trial, The Recorder found that Mr Young and members of his family have been responsible for continuous acts of harassment, trespass and nuisance against the various owners of the Farm for almost 40 years. He said:
“Having listened to 12 days’ oral evidence and 22 witnesses as to fact, I am satisfied that since the sale of [the farm] by Frederick Young in 1965, [Mr. Young] has been unable to accept the fact that he has no legal dominion over that property. It is clear from an examination of the historical evidence that it was his intention to make the life of those who occupy [the farm] a misery; that his campaign of belligerence has continued since the death of his father; that he has a deep-seated aversion to those wealthy enough to afford a second home the size of [the farm]; and that the notoriety of his conduct in the locality is an open secret. Though nothing turns on it, the allegation that he stated publicly that he had acquired a number of dead rats and it was his intention to strew the corpses over the courtyard at [the farm], is one that I am inclined to accept. It is consistent with his conduct that has been demonstrated to my satisfaction and, I would add, his showing his buttocks to the security camera at [the farm] goes only to show his juvenile and disrespectful attitude. Without causing violence to language I am unable to describe his near 40 year campaign of truculence as transitory.”
Mr. and Mrs. Raymonds issued proceedings against their neighbours on 3 May 2012, claiming damages for trespass, nuisance and harassment. In summary, they claimed that Mr. and Mrs. Young (and their children) had:
- obstructed the rights of way to the Farm;
- failed to control their dog and to prevent it from defecating at the Farm;
- caused trespass and nuisance with their guinea fowl;
- left dustbins and other rubbish near to the back door and kitchen window of the Farm;
- burnt plastic and other noxious materials causing smoke;
- vandalised two CCTV cameras, a greenhouse and other property; and
- physically intimidated Mrs Raymond.
The Recorder found these allegations proved and awarded damages under each head. He awarded a total of £3,600 for the trespass and obstruction, and awards ranging between £50 and £1,000 for the various acts of nuisance. But in addition Mr. and Mrs. Raymonds claimed damages for the diminution in value of the Farm which had been caused by the actions of their neighbours. The Recorder made specific awards of damages for the acts of nuisance and rounded them up to a figure of £20,000 to include general damages for distress and inconvenience. He also awarded aggravated damages of £5,000.
That left the claim for damages for diminution in the value of the Farm; Mr. and Mrs. Raymonds argued that this conduct had blighted their property and reduced its value on a sale to any purchaser who was aware of the matter. The Recorder found that Mr. and Mrs. Young’s conduct (and particularly that of Mr. Young) had started long before the Raymonds purchased the Farm. The Recorder ordered damages of £155,000.
One of the cases referred to by the Court of Appeal in its judgment is Dennis v Ministry of Defence  2 EGLR 121. It was a claim for damages for nuisance by the owners of a Grade 1 listed country house, Walcot Hall, which is situated less than 2 miles from RAF Wittering. The RAF base was used for training and the operation of Harrier jump jets and the level of noise was said to have caused a very serious interference with the claimants’ enjoyment of their property. The Court held that the noise generated by the aircraft did constitute an actionable nuisance and awarded damages of £950,000.
The trial Judge also awarded an injunction restraining Mr. and Mrs. Young from harassing Mr. and Mrs. Raymond. However, the Court of Appeal thought that the injunction would not guarantee that a buyer of the farm would not be subjected to the same treatment. Any further repetition of the same sort of conduct towards an incoming purchaser would require fresh proceedings for an injunction with all the cost and trouble which that would involve. It also reduced the total award of damages by £20,000 to eliminate an element of double recovery but left the awards of £3,500 as damages for trespass and £5,000 as aggravated damages.
At trial the Recorder ordered Mr. and Mrs. Young to pay the costs of the action on an indemnity basis and to make an interim payment on account of costs of £150,000.
Indemnity costs are generally awarded in cases where the paying party has conducted the litigation in a way which the court regards as unjustified. The Recorder, in his judgment, said that the award of indemnity costs was intended to reflect the defendants’ pursuit of unrealistic claims and assertions including that the allegations of nuisance were unfounded or invented and that they were part of a campaign by the Raymonds to drive them out. The Recorder found that there was no truth in these allegations and that the Youngs raised them as part of a defence which they always knew was false and had no prospect of success. The Court of Appeal agreed.
A cautionary tale! Interestingly it also illustrates a point that solicitors who have dealt with such cases know well; boundary disputes and neighbour problems are usually caused by some deep-seated issue that has nothing to do with either boundaries or neighbours, but rather something much more human.
For more information contact David Vaughan-Birch.