The problem of the grumpy neighbour who refuses to return a wayward ball over a fence will be a thing of the past in Belgium.
From 1 September, anyone who accidentally kicks or throws their ball into a neighbour’s garden will have the legal right to retrieve it – if they are willing to brave the frowns and disapproval. The same will apply for pet owners who want to rescue animals who have gone astray.
Prof Vincent Sagaert, who helped write the new property law, said the move was necessary to bring clarity to a complicated legal situation in the country.
“Until 1 September, the neighbour has to return the ball. [But] they can deny you access to their garden to do that,” Sagaert told the Flemish radio channel VRT. “From 1 September, you have the right to go and get your ball or pet, provided it ended up there by accident. Just kicking the ball over the hedge to look around is not allowed. Of course, you must use your common sense.
“You have to ring the bell of the neighbour and ask first, but if they refuse or are not at home, you can still enter the garden to quickly get it back,” he added. “But only to look for your ball or animal, not to take other things, because that is still just called theft.”
Concerns have been raised that the new law will lead to an outbreak of unneighbourly behaviour. But Eric Dierickx, who as a justice of the peace presides over a small claims court in Wezembeek-Oppem, in the Belgian province of Flemish Brabant, said the law’s application would be closely monitored.
“People cannot just start walking into anyone’s garden, and it is the role of the justice of the peace to see to that,” he said. “Abuses will also be sanctioned. We have to be vigilant about privacy.”
Under a further change to the law, people will have the right to walk on private land, providing it is not fenced off, cultivated or tilled.
It will also be a legal right to access a neighbour’s garden to set up a ladder when trimming a hedge or cleaning a gutter. “That right will now be extended to construction work,” said Sagaert. “It is also a temporary right, and the neighbours can also ask for compensation for the nuisance.”
Sagaert said he did not believe the law would affect the right to privacy. “Of course third parties cannot use people’s property,” he said, according to the Brussels Times. “We are talking about situations where a ball really has ended up in the neighbour’s garden by accident.”