The days of children saying “can I have my ball back, please?” after kicking it into a neighbour’s garden are numbered in Belgium.
From September 1, a new property law comes into force that will allow young people to retrieve their errant football or wandering family pet from a neighbour’s garden without asking for permission.
Under current rules, the neighbour can refuse access to their garden and return the ball or cat and dog themselves.
Vincent Sagaert, a professor of law at Leuven University, helped to draw up the new rules, which he said would bring clarity and update them to modern living.
“From September 1, you have the right to collect your ball or pet, provided it ended up there by accident,” he told Flemish radio.
‘Kicking ball over hedge to have a look around is not allowed’
“Just kicking the ball over the hedge to have a 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 added: “But only to look for your ball or animal, not to take other things, because that is still just called theft.”
The professor yesterday was forced to defend the new rule. He pointed out that the private property rules were badly in need of reform with some dating from 1804 and written by Napoleon.
Eric Dierickx, a justice of the peace in a small claims court in Flemish Brabant, said the law would be monitored.
‘People can’t start walking into anyone’s garden’
“People cannot just start walking into anyone’s garden,” he said. “Abuses will also be punished.”
Other reforms include an extension of the so-called “ladder law”, which allows people to use their neighbour’s land for a ladder to trim hedges or clean gutters.
That right will be expanded to include construction equipment for new buildings or to carry out repairs on a house, but only if the owner has no space on his own property for it.
Neighbours can refuse permission but will have to prove they have good reason for doing so.
People will also have the right to walk on empty private land unless it is fenced off, cultivated, or there is a sign warning it is private.