Sean Foley, Solicitor at our firm, recently featured in The Irish Times Property Clinic. You can read the original article here and or read the full article below.
A couple of years ago we purchased a cottage at the end of a boreen. The county council have been in charge of the road leading to it since 2015. While we get on well with our neighbours, our relationship with an adjoining farm owner is less cordial. When we first moved here we attempted to be friendly and helped him with farm jobs on occasion and, to be fair, this was reciprocated in the early days.
Relations turned a little sour when we discovered he had been disposing of household rubbish under cut tree branches and challenged him on it, and they soured further when it transpired a piece of laneway immediately outside our property, which he had claimed to own, in fact belonged to someone else – an individual with whom he has also has a sour relationship. Much to his apparent anger and disappointment, we have been offered use of this laneway and keep it clean and tidy.
However, he routinely uses part of the laneway and part of our yard to turn his vehicle despite having ample property of his own for this purpose.
He has also installed cameras that cover not only his property but part of the road taken in charge by the council and the laneway mentioned above. One camera is also often directed towards our property, but we have no idea what can be seen. We have asked him to not direct them beyond his property, citing data protection issues, but he said he doesn’t care.
Further to this, we have been alerted to the fact that he is using our address and postcode for motor tax. Again, we have asked that he not do this but he persists.
Our instruction to An Post that his correspondence be returned resulted in him erecting another post box adjacent to ours. Despite visiting the farm on a daily basis, he no longer speaks to or makes eye contact with us or the only other house owner on the road (with whom he had a previous falling out).
While trying to remain positive, we have spent an amount of emotional energy on this issue and had thought that by ignoring the matter he might desist in his behaviour and we could all move on without a need for legal professionals, the Garda, the Data Protection Commission (whom we contacted about the camera issue eight months ago and numerous times since, with limited action on their part) and the financial, emotional and time costs that would be incurred. This has not worked and we are increasingly frustrated. I imagine you might suggest mediation but considering he doesn’t respond to our (polite) emails and texts and refuses to make eye contact, I feel this might not be an option. Any other help, advice or suggestions would be most appreciated.
Sean’s reply: I see from your query that the neighbour in question has been pointing a camera at your property. Under the general data protection regulation (GDPR), the fact he is pointing a camera at your property means that he has certain obligations towards you and your family. As a result of GDPR, he is deemed to be a “data controller”.
Because you are living on your property and he is using a camera to capture images, he is gathering what is called “sensitive personal data” of you. This is the type of data that is most protected by GDPR. As a data subject, you and your family may have certain rights against him.
Given the apparent breakdown in communications and your belief that mediation is not really an option, I would suggest you do the following.
Firstly, send a letter by registered post to him stating that you object to a camera being pointed at your house, that you want this activity stopped immediately and for him to provide you with a copy of all the camera footage he has taken of you, and that you want all copies of any deleted footage. After receiving your letter, he has 30 days to provide you with this data and to confirm that he has stopped this activity and erased all this data. You should also point out to him that should he fail to do so, you will make a complaint to the Data Protection Commission (DPC) and may sue him for damages.
If he does not comply with the above, you should then make a written complaint to the DPC. I understand you do not want to do this, but you may need to do so to enforce your rights.
If there are children living in your house this should be stressed in your complaint to the DPC. This is because the unauthorised collection of “sensitive personal data” about people under the age of 16 is taken very seriously.
In addition, if you can get close enough to the camera, you might be able to see if it is being managed by a security company. If so, the security company also has obligations towards you and your family. Indeed, they may be a data controller or at the very least a data processor.
If you can determine the name of the security company, you should also write a registered letter to the security company at their registered address requesting that this activity cease, that you want copies of all the images captured by them of you and your family and that they delete all data that they hold on you. Data processors have an obligation to process your data in accordance with the law, and by processing your data without your consent, they are breaking the law. This letter should also inform the data processor that you will make a complaint to the DPC and sue them for damages if they fail to comply.
Should the DPC fail to address your concerns in an adequate manner, you also have the right to take this neighbour to court to enforce your rights. In addition, if the security company fails to comply with the terms of your letter, you can sue them for damages.
As regards the dumping of household rubbish on his own land, if you believe that this may cause a threat to public health or the environment you could contact your local authority. With respect to using the laneway and part of your yard to turn his vehicle, this could constitute a trespass. However, the financial costs of taking legal action on this point could be high and you could also lose the case.
Concerning his use of your address and postcode, that is a matter between your neighbour and An Post.
Sean Foley is a solicitor at P. O’Connor and Son, solicitors.