Have you ever lost a ball because you’ve accidentally kicked it over the fence and into your unfriendly neighbor’s yard? Well, from the first of September, if this happens to anyone in Belgium, they’ll have the legal right to retrieve it (though this probably won’t temper the reaction of the grumpy neighbor). The same goes for pet owners looking to save their furry friend who’s lost their way.
Though this seems like a bit of a light issue, Prof Vincent Sagaert, who helped write the new property law, said that it was necessary to clarify a complicated legal situation in the country.
“Until 1 September, the neighbor has to return the ball. [But] they can deny you access to their garden to do that,” Sagaert said to 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.” He continues.
“You have to ring the bell of the neighbor and ask first, but if they refuse or are not at home, you can still enter the garden to quickly get it back,” he explains. “But only to look for your ball or animal, not to take other things, because that is still just called theft.”
There has been concern that the new law will result in unneighborly behavior, however, Eric Dierickx, a justice of the peace that presides over a small claims court in Wezembeek-Oppen in the Belgian province of Flemish Brabant said that there’s no need to worry—the implementation of the law will be monitored meticulously.
“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.”
More changes to the law include giving people the right to walk on private land, provided that it’s not fenced off, cultivated, or tilled. Other neighborly changes to the law include giving people the right to set up a ladder in their neighbor’s garden or yard 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 neighbors can also ask for compensation for the nuisance.”
As for concerns about privacy, Sagaert assures people that “third parties cannot use people’s property,” and that the law is truly made for “situations where a ball really has ended up in the neighbor’s garden by accident.”