UK: Can Building Works Constitute Harassment?

Last Updated: 28 July 2011
Article by Peter Lampitt

Earlier this month, the Court of Appeal handed down its decision in a dispute between neighbours concerning building works that overran by 4 years. What makes this case unusual is that it included a claim for harassment.

Facts of the case

In 2002, the Claimants purchased No. 105, Lower Thrift Street. The property next door was owned by the Defendants, who, shortly after the Claimants moved in, began an extensive refurbishment. Although the works should have taken no more than a year, they went on for 5 years, during which time the Claimants suffered a catalogue of disturbances, damage to their property and harassment.

The Defendants displayed an aggressive attitude towards the Claimants, epitomised by an incident in which abusive notes on the subject of the Claimants' same-sex relationship were left in the Claimants' garden, refused to provide information about the progress of the works and ignored requests to reduce the noise coming from the site and make good damage caused to the Claimants' property. The anxiety and distress caused by this behaviour left one of the Claimants with psychiatric harm and unable to work.

In addition to claims for nuisance and trespass, relating to issues such as the unreasonable prolongation of the works, excessive noise and vibration and damage to their property, the Claimants also brought a claim for personal injury and associated loss of earnings, asserting that the Defendants' conduct amounted to harassment contrary to s.1 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 ("the Act").

At first instance, whilst it was accepted that harassment had occurred and that this had caused the psychiatric injury complained of, the judge held that damages could not be awarded under the Act, as it had not been shown that harm was reasonably foreseeable. The Claimants appealed to the Court of Appeal, who held that there is no requirement to show reasonable foreseeability of harm when bringing a claim under the Act. If it can be shown that the conduct was deliberate and the defendant knew or ought to have known that it amounted to harassment, the defendant will be liable for injury and loss flowing from the conduct. Damages of £143,750 were awarded.


Usually a claim for disturbance caused by building works will be advanced on the basis of nuisance, which requires a claimant to show that it was reasonably foreseeable that harm would be caused, or trespass, which is limited to interference with property or land. The possibility of bringing a claim under the Act, which will not be constrained in either of these ways and may extend to aggravation more generally, will therefore be an attractive proposition for disgruntled neighbours.

Potential claimants will also be assisted by the lack of a statutory definition of harassment. In this case it was defined broadly, as being "persistent tormenting or irritation of the victim... deliberate conduct which its perpetrator either knows or certainly ought reasonably to be aware has this effect on the complainant." Furthermore, and as evident from this definition, what constitutes harassment will depend on the impact on the complainant. What of the situation where a neighbour has sensitive hearing, works nightshifts or suffers from extreme allergies to dust? As the requirement is simply to show that the defendant knew that the act amounted to harassment, where such conditions are known to a builder then carrying out works that can be expected to cause distress will arguably constitute harassment.

That said, previous cases have defined harassment as conduct that is "oppressive and unreasonable", that is "targeted at an individual and which is calculated" and that relates to interactions between individuals and which is intensely personal in character. These suggest that normal building works may fall outside the scope of harassment. The judgment at first instance also provides a degree of reassurance, stating that "continuous building work through a relatively short period can be tolerated as a reasonable necessity or alternatively avoided. Works which go on over a four year period on a sporadic or ad hoc basis without notice and at anytime can become unbearable." One might also argue that the conduct complained of in this case took place within the context of building works but, largely speaking, did not arise out of the works themselves.

It may therefore be that this case provides less support for disgruntled neighbours than it at first appears. However, it seems probable that there will be claimants that seek to rely on it in the future.

Reference: Jones v Ruth [2011] EWCA Civ 804 click here.

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 25/07/2011.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.