In the Netherlands M
ayors do not have the power to deal with home owners who cause serious nuisance through excessive noise or other forms of antisocial behaviour towards their neighbours. The local authorities can try to close the houses, but the courts tend to see this as too radical. Lawyer Michel Vols is suggesting an amendment to the Dutch Municipalities Act that will empower local authorities to respond more effectively to serious conflicts between neighbours. Vols will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 31 October.
Just last year, the Mayor of Purmerend closed an owner-occupied property because of the serious nuisance that the owner was causing to his neighbours. The decision was contested and the Haarlem District Court found in the owner’s favour. Although the nuisance seriously disturbed the neighbours’ enjoyment of their property and the court understood the reason for the Mayor’s decision, the judge did not think that noise nuisance ultimately justified home closure. The neighbours of the person causing the problem felt that the ruling left them paying the price.
The only instrument available to mayors is the proverbial sledgehammer, which, in cases like these, may not be used to crack the nut. The authorities are left powerless to help victims of nuisance neighbours. This imbalance could easily be rectified in line with the English example, claims Michel Vols on the basis of his research into dealing with antisocial behaviour. Tony Blair’s Labour government gave local authorities the power to issue civil preventative orders to problem home owners at an early stage. ‘In the Netherlands, this could entail financial sanctions, such as a fine, in combination with a compulsory behaviour order. Owners could be given an ultimatum: get rid of the barking dog or leave your home.’ An amendment to Article 174a of the Municipalities Act (also known as the ‘Wet Victoria’) could bring an end to the invulnerability that home owners currently enjoy in practice.
At present, if the person causing the nuisance rents the property, the likelihood of finding an effective solution is greater than if the property is owner-occupied. ‘It may be a lengthy procedure, but in the worst cases, tenants can be evicted’, says Vols. This imbalance between tenants and owner-occupiers means that it is not the degree or type of antisocial behaviour that determines whether serious nuisance can be resolved, but whether the person causing the nuisance is a tenant or home owner. Vols stresses that more evenly balanced legislation should apply equally to tenants. The behaviour order mentioned above may make it unnecessary for landlords to apply to the courts for tenants to be forcibly evicted from their homes. According to Vols, an amendment to Article 174a of the Municipalities Act would enable local authorities to safeguard the balance between honouring the culprit’s right to a private life and the obligation to protect victims from serious nuisance. Victims would see quicker benefit from a behaviour order, and there would be less need to make people who cause nuisance homeless.
Michel Vols will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 31 October for a comparative legal study of nuisance neighbours and the right to a private life. Vols studied legal practices and legislation in England, Wales, Belgium and the Netherlands. Since 2007, he has worked at the Centre for Public Order and Safety ( affiliated to the University of Groningen) as a researcher in the field of public order law.
- This week, Vols’s idea for tackling people causing nuisance reached the final of the global
Innovating Justice Award
. The idea gained the most votes in the public poll (qualifying round).
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