People who accidentally kicked their ball into their neighbour's garden or whose pet has ended up there will be allowed to simply go and retrieve it from 1 September, as Belgium's new property law comes into effect.
Belgium's law of property was recently reformed due to a lack of clarity about the current rules, according to Professor Vincent Sagaert (KU Leuven), who helped with the reform, reports De Standaard.
Specifically, it concerns situations where goods or animals accidentally end up on someone else's property. In that case, they have the right to go and look for them on that property, Sagaert explained on Flemish radio on Tuesday.
"Until 1 September, the neighbour has to return the ball. He can deny you access to his garden to do that," he said, adding that the same rules apply when your dog or cat walked into the neighbour's garden.
"From 1 September, you have the right to go and get your ball or pet, provided it ended up there by accident," Sagaert said. "Just kicking the ball over the hedge to look around is not allowed. Of course, you must use your common sense."
"You have to ring the bell of the neighbour and ask first, but if they refuse or are not at home, you can still enter the garden to quickly get it back," he said. "But only to look for your ball or animal, not to take other things, because that is still just called theft."
Additionally, due to the reform of property law, from 1 September it will be possible to walk on private land, providing it is not cultivated or tilled, according to Sagaert.
However, if there is a sign saying that access is prohibited, or if the plots are fenced off, people are still not allowed to walk there.
"The so-called 'ladder right' is also being expanded. Until now, if you had to maintain or repair plantings or buildings, it was already the case that you could pass by the neighbour's plot if that was necessary," he said.
It also allowed people to go into their neighbour's garden to set up a ladder when trimming their own hedge or cleaning their gutter, for example.
"That right will now be extended to construction work."
In principle, this means that you could place a scaffold or ladder on your neighbour's driveway to reach your façade, but only if you do not have the space to place it yourself.
However, your neighbours can oppose this if they have a good reason, such as needing that piece of land for building work, or if you could actually also use your own plot to get to the renovation.
"It is also a temporary right, and the neighbours can also ask for compensation for the nuisance," Sagaert stressed.
According to him, the reform does not interfere with the right to property and the right to privacy. "Of course third parties cannot use people's property. We are talking about situations where a ball really has ended up in the neighbour's garden by accident."
"For the entry of plots of land by hikers, it concerns plots of land that are not fenced, and where an owner does not make use of their plot," Sagaert added. "In that case, one cannot oppose the fact that a third party is using it in a non-obstructive way."
"It is about the smallest interference, no more than that," he said. "If violations of privacy occur, then one goes beyond that right."
According to Justice of the Peace, Eric Dierickx, this reform is unlikely to lead to more conflicts between neighbours, as they will be applied with caution.
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," Dierickx said. "People could find inspiration in this to jeer at each other, but all unlawful acts will be sanctioned."
However, these rules do not necessarily create more clarity, as everything was clear already, according to him.
"We already found solutions to disputes," Dierickx said. "Why these rules have come about is anyone's guess."