What to do when your neighbors are a nuisance?

Dear Marijn,

I’m an Australian engineer and I’ve been living in HCMC with my wife and two kids for about a year now. Our life has been peaceful and happy until we recently moved to a new apartment. It turns out that our new neighbors are probably the most antisocial people in the whole city. They fight with each other all the time, host late night parties with extremely loud music almost every weekend and, if that was not enough already, they have also adopted a new dog that is keeping me and my family awake the entire night! I have already tried once to reason with them, but without success; the man practically threw me out of his house. Now they have started calling my wife and kids names when they see us. This is a very uncomfortable situation, what can I do?

Neighbors are a part of our everyday life. But clearly, there are limits to how much one can (and should) tolerate from his neighbors. Let’s have a look at what the law says about this.

Let’s start at the highest level in the legal hierarchy. The right to your physical inviolability and to have your health, honor and dignity protected by law is a fundamental right of every citizen under Vietnam’s constitution. The same is echoed in the Civil Code of Vietnam, which provides that the honor, dignity and reputation of each individual shall be respected, and shall be protected by law.

In regards to your situation, the Decree of the Government of 2013, for example, deals with administrative violations of social security, order and safety, as well as with the prevention and fighting of fire, social evils and domestic violence. According to this decree, individuals and organizations making or causing loud noise in residential areas or public places between 10pm and 6am shall receive either a caution or a fine of between VND100,000 and VND300,000. The same sanction applies to causing disorder in residential areas and to making gestures and/or using words that are rude, provocative, teasing or insulting to the honor and dignity of others.

In addition to that, the government has also issued detailed regulations about noise in a Circular of 2010. This document prescribes the maximum noise limits – measured in decibel (dB) – for areas where humans live and work. For residential areas, one is not allowed to create more than 70 dB between 6am and 9pm, and not more than 55 dB between 9pm and 6am.

Based on the above, it is clear that your neighbors may be in violation of the law when they play loud music during the night and when they are insulting you and your family. But knowing about your rights and obligations is only the first step. The more difficult step is enforcing those rights.

Before discussing the legal remedies that may be available to you in a situation like this one, I would recommend you try at least one more time to find an amicable solution with your neighbors. Perhaps this time you could ask your landlord for help because it is in their interest to keep you happy as a lessee. And sometimes it helps to let someone who is less emotionally involved do the talking.

If the second talk doesn’t improve the situation you can reach out to the authorities who have the power to impose a sanction on your neighbors. This means going to the local People’s Committee in the ward (phuong) where you live. Legally, you are entitled to file an official complaint with them. It is their responsibility to listen to you, to record your complaint and to take action: either by explaining your options to you or by taking immediate action to stop your neighbors’ behavior, for example by imposing an administrative penalty on them.

If you are still not satisfied and don’t want to look for another apartment, then you may consider taking legal action. Before going to court, however, there is one more option for you to think about: the so-called “grassroots conciliation.” This mechanism, which is encouraged by the government, is generally advertised as being a potentiall faster and cheaper way to settle a dispute without further worsening the relationship between the parties involved Instead of having to face each other in court, a conciliator will sit down with the parties in order to try and reach a solution that is mutually acceptable.

As a final resort, you can initiate court proceedings and claim compensation for any damages that your neighbor has caused. Regardless of what this would mean for the atmosphere in your neighborhood, please keep in mind that court proceedings in Vietnam often take a (very) long time and that it may be difficult for you to prove the damages tha you would be claiming.

I wish you and your family the best of luck and I hope that you will be able to find an amicable solution to this difficult situation, perhaps with the help of a third party.

Every month, Marijn Sprokkereef answers legal questions from Oi readers. If you have any legal question you want answered, send them to legal@oivietnam.com.

BIO: After having obtained legal experience in his home country the Netherlands and in Cambodia, Marijn Sprokkereef is currently an associate of Audier & Partners. Audier & Partners is an international law firm with presence in Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi), Myanmar and Mongolia, providing advice to foreign investors on a broad range of legal issues.