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Wild rabbits are a nuisance

My neighbour won’t let his twin daughters have a pet, so they have started feeding wild rabbits. While that may sound harmless, the twins have now attracted so many rabbits that their garden looks like a sanctuary! The rabbits have started burrowing into land, ruining the grass and feasting on my vegetable garden. Is there anything I can do?

Wild rabbits are regarded as pests and have little protection under the law. In fact, all of England (other than the City of London and the Isles of Scilly) is a designated rabbit clearance area, which requires landowners actively to control the number of rabbits on their land. Your neighbour is therefore breaking the law by encouraging rabbits into their garden. Firstly you should approach him and ask him to get rid of the rabbits. If the twins throw a tantrum, then ask him to erect rabbit proof fencing to stop the rabbits from escaping.

I can’t see that happening, their garden is a tip. Is there nothing else I can do?

If your neighbour takes no action then you can make a complaint to Natural England. However, in order for Natural England to get involved you will need to show you have suffered significant crop damage — that might depend how big the vegetable patch is.

I have a shotgun certificate. What if I were to reduce the population next door?

If the rabbits cross from your neighbour’s garden on to your land then you are perfectly entitled to shoot them. Rabbits are wild animals and your neighbour does not own them (they’re also a different species from domestic rabbits). However, you cannot shoot them while they are on your neighbour’s property. Needless to say that if the twins were ever allowed a real pet then you could not shoot it as domestic animals are legally their owner’s property.

Can I at least get my neighbour to pay me damages?

You could sue your neighbour for private nuisance. You would need to prove that your neighbour’s actions have caused a continuous and unlawful interference with the use or enjoyment of your land. However, even if you are successful in your claim, the court does not have to award damages and could simply order your neighbour to control his rabbit infestation.

As always, the best solution is to try to resolve the matter in a neighbourly fashion without getting lawyers involved.

Katy Tydeman is an associate at the law firm Farrer & Company

Leaky roof in apartment block

We live on the top floor of a small apartment block and pay a service charge for upkeep and maintenance. Our roof has started to leak, but the freeholder and other tenants are refusing to pay for the repairs because it affects only us. Can we make them?

The first thing you need to do is check the terms of your lease to ensure that repairs to the roof are the responsibility of the freeholder. It is possible because you are on the top floor of the building that you are responsible for any roof repairs. This would, however, be unusual as most residential leases make the landlord responsible for maintaining and repairing the structure and exterior of the building.

If the lease says the landlord is responsible, then what next?

You should write to the landlord reminding him or her of the terms of the lease and ask that the repairs be carried out as a matter of urgency. If the landlord still refuses to carry out the repairs you can make an application to court for an order for specific performance, which would require the freeholder to carry out the repairs within a set timeframe. You could also ask the court to award you damages for any damage that has been caused to your apartment as a result of the failure to repair the roof.

I have a feeling that we will end up paying for this one way or the other.

I’m afraid you’re probably right. Even if the freeholder is responsible for repairing the roof, it is likely that the lease will provide for the cost to be recovered from the leaseholders through the service charge. The cause of the damage should be investigated as it may be possible for the landlord to claim on the building insurance for the repair. If not, you should check whether the lease provides for a sinking fund to cover repairs to the roof.

If there is no sinking fund or the sinking fund does not cover the repair, the landlord will have to pay for it (and then recover it from the service charge). If the cost of the repair amounts to more than £250 for each leaseholder, the freeholder has to consult with the leaseholders before carrying out the works, which will mean that there is a delay to the work starting.

Kellie Jones is a senior associate in the Litigation team at law firm Boodle Hatfield

The legal issues discussed in this column refer to England and Wales. Scenarios have been compiled for illustrative purposes only

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