Neighbour Takes Drastic Action to Protect Privacy

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Neighbour fence

Social media went into over-drive this week, with the emergence of a story about a ‘Big Hairy Greek Guy’ who cleaned his entire house while naked because his neighbours refused to install frosted windows, which would give them both some privacy.

James Penlidis, who documented his personal saga on his Facebook page decided to go nude in protest of his neighbours reneging on a promise to install frosted windows in the house they built overlooking his.

When the local council offered him no immediate solutions, Mr Penlidis took matters into his own hands: cleaning his house, painting, cooking and eating – all completely naked. He even rode an exercise bike in his back yard in the buff. Mr Penlidis received an outpouring of sympathy on social media, and many suggestions about activities he could do in the nude, including yoga and ping pong.

“No one wants to see a big hairy Greek guy with it all hanging out,” Penlidis said. And he was right. After just 6 days of his naked campaign, the neighbours installed frosting on their glass windows.

But here’s the interesting thing about your privacy at home – it’s not guaranteed. Politicians, The Royal Family and celebrities have learned this the hard way – with paparazzi often waiting in cars or perched in trees or on fences of nearby properties ready to photograph their every move.

Is there a right to privacy?

International law recognises the right to privacy in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Australian law generally acknowledges there are many facets of privacy, including:

  • Bodily privacy – restriction of invasive searches or procedures including DNA collection;
  • Communications privacy – interference with mail or telephone conversations
  • Information privacy – how companies, organisations and government agencies collect and handle our personal data, and last but not least,
  • Territorial privacy –unwarranted intrusions into the home, workplace and streets through, for example, surveillance.

Privacy from neighbours

According to the Law Society says in New South Wales, if a neighbour can see into your yard, they can look at and listen to whatever activity is going on. Indeed, the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) does little more than deal with the way in which personal information is gathered, stored and used.

So what are your options if you have a particularly nosy neighbour or a privacy issue?

You might consider building a higher fence or planting shrubbery, but if your neighbour takes issue with this because it’s blocking sunlight or view, and they can prove this, then they may seek a court order to force you to remove it.

In that case, you may wish to invest in heavy blinds and curtains which you can install without anyone’s permission, although if you’re renting you should talk to your landlord first.

In cases of regular or serious harassment, you may resort to filing an apprehended personal violence order (AVO) to restrict such conduct. However, this should be reserved for extreme cases where all other avenues have been exhausted. Indeed, such applications can make the situation even worse and you may be ordered to pay your neighbour’s legal costs if the application is unsuccessful.

Disputes between neighbours are exceptionally common, often involving disagreements about common areas, or fences and boundaries as well as noise or animal complaints. There are normally rules which govern such situations, which are outlined on local council websites.

If in doubt about your rights in relation to a certain situation, speak to your local council in the first instance, and then seek legal advice if you need it. But it’s always better for everyone involved if matters can be resolved outside of court – it’s less expensive and often quicker too.

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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