Norwegians have an alarming tendency to quarrel with their neighbours, according to local insurance companies and a state council charged with resolving conflicts. Neighbours normally fight over building projects that may block views, or trees that “steal” sunshine from the adjacent property, but one man’s decision to destroy half of a neighbour’s cottage this week brought such disputes to a new level.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) broke the story on Wednesday about a man living on affluent Nesøya, an island connected by bridge to the suburban area of Asker and Bærum west of Oslo. He had complained that half of a cottage belonging to his neighbour was actually situated on his property. When his neighbour traveled to Spain on holiday, the man took matters into his own hands and literally sawed the cottage in two.
It’s an extreme example of a neighbour feud that spun out of control. The matter is now likely to land in court, while both insurers and officials at the conflict resolution board (Konfliktrådet) wish the neighbours could simply engage in the “dialogue” that Norwegian officials are known to promote both at home and internationally.
“Neighbour disputes can be very seasonal,” Gro Jørgensen of Konfliktrådet told newspaper Dagsavisen. “Now it’s spring, and that’s when many flare up. The weather gets warmer, people move out to their verandas or gardens and see that trees have grown higher. Some complain about noisy kids on the neighbour’s outdoor trampoline.”
Or they don’t want their views obstructed. In the fall, Jørgensen said, there are disputes over falling leaves from a neighbour’s trees. In the winter disputes arise over snow shoveling.
According to figures from major Norwegian insurance carrier If Skadeforsikring, it alone paid out claims totalling NOK 18 million (USD 3 million) that arose from nearly 900 neighbour disputes. That was up 50 percent from four years earlier.
‘A matter of honour’
The insurer estimates that neighbour disputes result in nearly NOK 80 million insurance claims every year. “It’s seen as a matter of honour not to give in to a neighbour’s demands, and we expect or hope that the other side will take the initiative for some sort of reconciliation,” Dag Are Børresen of HELP Forsikring told Dagsavisen. He referred to a quarrel over a tree between neighbours in Sandefjord, southwest of Oslo. When the tree’s owner lost in a Norwegian appeals court and the Norwegian Supreme Court refused to hear the case, he took it all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. “It became a matter of principle,” Børresen recalled. “It’s a development that the court system really doesn’t like.”
Disputes can involve “folks who were good friends and neighbours earlier but something went wrong over the years,” Børresen said. “I think this often bottoms out in psychology more than legalities. It’s seldom recommended to take matters into your own hands.”
Jørgensen of the conflict resolution council urges quarreling neighbours to get in touch for a session where “they can sit down together, look each other in the eyes and talk calmly. We mark that things happen then. It’s really exhausting to have an ongoing fight with your neighbour. We want to end up sitting with two winners.”