The problem of an angry neighbor who refuses to return the stray ball over the fence will be a thing of the past in Belgium.
As of September 1, anyone who accidentally kicks or throws the ball into a neighbor’s lawn will have the legal right to get it back – if they are willing to put up with a frown and disagree. The same goes for pet owners who want to save stray animals.
Professor Vincent Saggart, who helped write the new property law, said the move was necessary to clarify the country’s complex legal situation.
Until September 1, the neighbor must return the ball. [But] “They can stop you from getting into their garden to do that,” Sagert told Flemish radio channel VRT. “From September 1, you have the right to go and get the ball or your pet, provided it ends up there by accident. Just kicking the ball over the fence to look around is not allowed. Of course, you must use your intuition.
“You have to ring the neighbor’s bell and ask first, but if they refuse or they are not at home, you can still enter the garden to get him back quickly,” he added. “But only to look for your ball or your animal, and not to take other things, because that is still called mere stealing.”
Concerns have been raised that the new law will lead to rampant non-neighbourly behaviour. But Eric Derricks, who, as peace judge, presides over a small claims court in Wissembeck-Oppem, in the Belgian province of Flemish Brabant, said law enforcement would be closely watched.
“People can’t just walk in anyone’s garden, and Peace Justice’s role is to make sure that,” he said. Violations will also be punished. We have to be vigilant about privacy.”
Under another change to the law, people will have the right to walk on private land, provided it is not fenced, cultivated or tilled.
It would also be a legal right to access a neighbor’s lawn to set up a ladder when trimming a fence or cleaning out a gutter. “This right will now be expanded to include construction work,” Saggart said. “It is also a temporary right, and the neighbors can also claim compensation for the inconvenience.”
Sagert 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’re talking about situations where the ball ended up in a neighbor’s garden by accident.”