Living Together as Neighbours: Rethinking the Reasonableness Standard in Nuisance Law Under the Constitution


  • Tina Kotzé Stellenbosch University
  • Zsa-Zsa Boggenpoel



Neighbour law, nuisance law, Covid-19 pandemic, ubuntu, reasonableness


The Covid-19 pandemic, with its concomitant "stay at home" catchphrase, has certainly made living together as neighbours in a constitutional dispensation more tangible. Conflicts between neighbours will inevitably increase, especially in a time when citizens from different social, cultural, customary or religious backgrounds and with different rights and interests are restricted to the boundaries of their properties as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic has provided us with the impetus to reflect upon the notion of "reasonableness" in neighbour law, particularly nuisance law in the narrow sense. In this context the role of neighbour law is ordinarily to regulate the relationship between neighbours. Therefore, neighbour law is crucial in that it resolves conflicts that arise between neighbours due to their everyday use of their properties.

Whether the nuisance is objectively reasonable or goes beyond that which can be reasonably tolerable under the circumstances requires weighing up various factors dependant on the prevailing circumstances, rights, interests, values and obligations of the neighbours and the community. In the constitutional dispensation, based on the values of human dignity, equality, and freedom, this may inadvertently require courts to balance out and reconcile often opposing constitutional rights. To this end the underlying principle of nuisance law encapsulated in the phrases "give and take" and "live and let live" arguably already encapsulates the notion of balancing respective rights (constitutional or otherwise) and interests given the context of each case.

However, courts do not always correctly apply the reasonableness test in a principled and coherent fashion, as illustrated in Ellaurie v Madrasah Taleemuddeen Islamic Institute 2021 2 SA 163 (KZD). This may lead to the conclusion that constitutional rights are ignored when the reasonableness test for nuisance law is applied. It is necessary to reconceptualise the reasonableness test in order to ensure that the common law is infused with constitutional values. There are numerous ways in which the ideals and values of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (and even specific constitutional rights other than property rights) could be advanced if courts were more willing (not being held back by conservatism) and able (equipped with the necessary vocabulary) to apply the common law in line with the Constitution. It is pivotal that courts apply the reasonableness test correctly, considering all the relevant circumstances of the case, including the broader constitutional values and ideals such as ubuntu. It is arguable that if this were done, nuisance law would have a greater potential to incorporate a wider range of rights, interests and values so that the outcomes would be fairer and more equitable, which is, after all, the goal of the reasonableness standard in neighbour law.


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How to Cite

Kotzé, T., & Boggenpoel, Z.-Z. (2021). Living Together as Neighbours: Rethinking the Reasonableness Standard in Nuisance Law Under the Constitution. Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal, 24, 1–32.