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I hope this question is appropriate here.

I moved into a house in a nice neighborhood a few months ago. I get along with most neighbors very well, but there is the one troublemaker like in every community. I'm currently replacing my old and rotten wooden handrail next to some stairs which are used by all neighbors. They were not really usable as such in fear of splinters and if one would rely on them when he stumbles they would probably fall apart. The new ones are made of sturdy aluminum with LEDs for the night to see the steps better. So an improvement in every way.

This certain neighbor immediately contacted the authorities and harassed the contractors as he considers them unsafe as they are just handrails without paling, so a small child could walk under it and fall into a small ditch where a funicular runs in parallel. In this specific case he mentions his grandchild who actually lives there, he only owns the house and rents it to his daughters family. I order some netting on the area where the fall to this ditch is above 1m, but for optics and the price I decided against it where the fall is only 50-60cm. I am aware if someone falls and gets injured, my insurance has to pay. But I don't see how he could force me to build a fence instead of just a handrail.

Talking with other neighbors, everyone dislikes that guy and against few of them he already took legal action. One had to cut down a tree a previous owner planted a bit too close to his property.

I am planning to a larger remodeling of my land and even though my property only touches his at a corner I fear he will again try to take legal action for whatever reason he feels fancy.

How can I prevent this or is there even a legal action I can take against him if it turns out as I fear?

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  • Assuming you have proper permits and approvals, his complaints are unjustified. Of course he can file lawsuits but frivolous suits are generally not well received by judges and you would likely have cause to counter-sue. Consult an actual attorney. Yes, this will cost you money but that's the problem with people line this. They are a nuisance!
    – jwh20
    Sep 8, 2022 at 13:44
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    You should inform him that due to his safety concern his grandchild is no longer welcome to use your stairs. Sep 8, 2022 at 15:02
  • I have seen this kind of behaviour in someone having real mental problems. Like a neighbour who is a pain in the **** while you feel sorry for them. Which doesn't change the fact that they are a pain, and no rational argument will help.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 8, 2022 at 16:43
  • As a general rule it only makes financial sense to start litigation outside small claims court when thereis at least 200K worth of damages. Looks like a childish attempt to intimidate your neighbours.
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 8, 2022 at 18:34
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    "I suspect that Switzerland has codes for this type of thing" - it probably does have codes, but I would not be in the least surprised if a handrail allowing falls under the rail is allowed. There is a very strong ethic of "individuals are required to show common sense". Sep 15, 2022 at 8:59

2 Answers 2

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You must comply with the law even on your own property

Things like handrails and fencing of potential falls are almost always subject to local building codes. "[S]ome netting" is unlikely to be compliant except as a temporary measure.

In addition, materially changing the functionality so that it becomes less safe, even if it complies, may expose you to liability if someone gets injured. Such as if the new handrail is replacing one which had measures to prevent someone from slipping under them.

Harassment

I'm unfamiliar with Swiss harassment laws but they usually require unwanted behaviour that offends, humiliates, intimidates, or creates a hostile environment and must usually be directed at a protected characteristic. Offending someone because you don't like them is fine; offending them because they are a woman is not.

A neighbour raising concerns with you, your contractors, or the authorities is not harassment. Nor is exercising his legal right to bring a lawsuit.

If it persists beyond what is reasonable it may cross over into stalking, but that's not harassment either.

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  • Note that there is such a concept as a "vexatious litigant/litigation", which isn't quite the same as harassment, but does apply to lawsuits; I'm not sure if Switzerland has such a concept in their legal code, or if his conduct qualifies (it seems like he's been victorious at least once, which suggests "no", unless the individual settled).
    – sharur
    Sep 9, 2022 at 4:12
  • @sharur ...which doesn't apply for a case of "Make that handrail safe under the building code or I will tell the building authorities!" - Threatening with whistleblowing to the enforcement agencies is never something that is a legally recognized form of duress!
    – Trish
    Sep 15, 2022 at 7:42
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There are quite strict regulations on how handrails need to be built if they (also) protect from a fall. The risk of a fall is assumed if the possible drop exceeds 1m. Additionally, in your case a funicular runs on the other side of the handrail, so even if one drops "only" 50cm, falling onto a track is a serious additional danger.

Here you'll find the corresponding regulations of the BFU (swiss safety ministry), including a video explaining the different terms and a PDF with the details.

The relevant regulations for your case seem to be that the handrail needs to be at least 1m high and the lower 75cm need to be either a net or bars with a distance smaller than 12cm (the size of the head of a small child). According to that, it seems your neighbor is right if he complains about the safety of the child. I do wonder why nobody told you about this when you ordered the new fence. Did you install it yourself or did you hire someone for the installation?

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  • Thanks. The BFU only provides recommendations they are not regulations and they are just consultants (even the name roughly translates to "consulting agency for accident prevention"). We and the contractor did some preliminary checks and to our understanding we are in the green, but you never know what the authorities will decide in the end.
    – Thomas
    Sep 15, 2022 at 7:32
  • Yea, you might not be required by law to follow their recommendations (particularly because you are not doing this professionally). Failing to do so might however get you in trouble when something happens, and your insurance could reduce their pay, too.
    – PMF
    Sep 15, 2022 at 7:40
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    @Thomas yeeeaa..... no. Those recommendations are the minimum standards you have to adhere to to be covered by your insurance - anything else is negligence. Handrails without a girder under it are for example for being mounted to a wall.
    – Trish
    Sep 15, 2022 at 10:17

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