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Neighbour rights consist of a collection of laws, guidelines and regulations that govern how you should use your property and how neighbours should behave. The legal provisions can be found in the Civil Code (Articles 679 and 684 ff) and in the cantonal introductory laws to the Civil Code. Other neighbourhood regulations can also be found in the public law of the Confederation, cantons and municipalities, for example the building and distance regulations. Neighbourhood law applies to all homeowners. Regardless of whether you live in a detached house or a condominium.
The neighbourly duty of respect is regulated in Article 684 of the Civil Code and forms the basis for neighbourhood law. The article prohibits excessive impacts. This includes, for example, sewage, foul odours, noise, deprivation of light, smoke, soot and dust. What is excessive and impermissible is often difficult to judge and depends on the property, the location and the local use. If it is unclear whether the emissions exceed the normal level, a judge must decide whether the aggrieved neighbours must tolerate the effects.
Condominium owners' associations additionally regulate how common parts may be used and what is excessive in the regulations and house rules.
Talk to your neighbours first and find an agreeable solution together. On the one hand you save time and money and on the other hand you improve the neighbourly relationship.
The most arguments between neighbours are about noise or smoke from outside. But just to be clear: garden parties and barbecues are most definitely allowed. However, it is important to be considerate to your surroundings i.e. your neighbours. The law only prohibits excessive noise or smoke and sometimes there is only a fine line between excessive and moderate. For some it smells like delicious food on the grill but for others it can also just stink. Since you it is very much a give and take situation, you should turn a blind eye to when your neighbours are partying - and so should they. The same applies when children are playing loudly or guests are laughing loudly.
If you own a house or a condominium, you may live with the same neighbours for the rest of your life. That's why a good neighbourly relationship is even more important than among tenants. Inform your neighbours about any planned parties on your balcony, in your garden or on your terrace well in advance. Especially if you plan to party longer than 10 pm. If they agree, you can continue partying after 10 pm. It's always better to invite everyone, then no one can complain about the noise or smoke...
In many municipalities, a night rest period from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. is prescribed by law. During this time, no noise may be made either indoors or outdoors. This means that for garden parties or barbecues, guests must be quieter from 10 p.m. onwards or continue to party indoors (at room volume). In addition, there are supplementary quiet hours for noisy work, including housework or gardening. For example, you are not allowed to mow the lawn on weekdays from 12 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., on Saturdays from 12 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5 p.m. onwards, or on Sundays and public holidays.
If your neighbours are making noise and talking doesn't help, call the police. You can also report other conflicts, for example excessive smoke, to the police.
Trees, hedges and shrubs regularly lead to neighbour disputes. Mostly because they grow too close to the other person's property. The law regulates the border distances and the maximum height. Unfortunately, there are no uniform regulations. The cantons regulate this in their introductory laws to the Civil Code, sometimes very differently. In the canton of Zurich, for example, tall trees such as birch, lime or fir must be 8 metres and fruit trees 4 metres from the property boundary, in the canton of Bern only 5 metres and 3 metres respectively.
If branches or roots from your neighbour's garden are damaging your property, you are allowed to cut them down (Article 687 of the Civil Code). However, this means cutting them back to the property line. The right to cut back applies only if the damage is significant e.g. if it causes shadows to be cast all day.
Pet owners also have a duty of respect. In most cases, opinions differ as to what is excessive when it comes to dogs and cats. Half a million dogs and 1.7 million cats live in Switzerland. Dogs can be domesticated. That's why masters or mistresses have to remove dog poop from the neighbour's garden and make sure that the dog doesn't bark too often and too loudly. Cats are different. They can neither be supervised nor domesticated. Which is why neighbours have to live with cats roaming the neighbourhood, chasing, marking their territory, fighting loudly with other cats or defecating in the garden.
Trees needle in autumn and lose leaves. That is their nature. That is why leaf fall and needle fall are considered normal natural occurrences and not excessive. Especially in neighbourhoods with many gardens and large trees, leaves and needles are common. You must tolerate them and rake them up. The situation is only different if the leaves or needles fall in a way that is not customary in the area and the leaves regularly block the gutters of your house, for example. Then you can demand that your neighbour removes the leaves or pays the costs.
Judges usually rule in favour of the tree owner. Even if, for example, the garage entrance of the neighbouring property is slippery and therefore dangerous because of the wet leaves.
For construction or maintenance work, it is sometimes necessary to enter the neighbour's property. In principle, workmen may enter and temporarily use the property if their work requires it. However, the property of the neighbours must not be endangered or impaired. This right is called the hammer and ladder right and is regulated in Article 695 of the Civil Code. The builder must give notice of the right to his neighbour and owes him compensation, because the right to hammer and ladder is an encroachment on his neighbour's property.
Before you escalate the dispute, you should talk to your neighbours. Often the reason for the disagreement is a misunderstanding. Find an agreeable solution, perhaps in mediation. Grant each other the right to a certain number of garden parties, move the ornamental shrubs that are too close to the border, or take over the cleaning of the gutters. If you can't find a solution, first talk to a lawyer who specialises in neighbour law. He can advise you and tell you whether it is worth going before the justice of the peace or even the judge.
If you believe that the emissions are excessive, you can defend yourself with a removal action or protect yourself from further exceedances with an injunction. You can even claim damages from your neighbours. However, the court has a great deal of discretion because there are no limits or guidelines in neighbourhood law. The outcome of the case is uncertain, and the process can be time-consuming and expensive. Which court has jurisdiction over a claim varies from canton to canton and is regulated by cantonal procedural law.
Think twice before going to court. Is it worth litigating over a bit of smoke or noise with people who may be your neighbours for life?