Are you living next to a veritable Ned Flanders, or the neighbours from hell? No matter how well you do (or don’t) get along with the people living next door, it doesn’t change the fact that sharing a wall has its ups and downs.
This is never more apparent than when you find yourself on one side (literally) of a party wall dispute, thanks to construction or renovations on the boundary line between your homes. To help you navigate the murky waters of neighbour party wall disputes, here Dakota Murphey provides answers to the five most common questions homeowners don’t really want to be asking.
1. Does my project definitely fall under the Party Wall Act?
Are you altering a party wall or fence? Building along, or right up against the boundary line? Excavating lower than the foundations of a building less than 3m away?
If “yes”, then the work is covered by the Act, and Notice is required. Works including cutting into a party wall, removing a chimney or making the wall taller, wider or deeper are covered. Inserting a damp proof course, underpinning a property or converting a loft space are usually covered, too.
Section 2 of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 details the exact nature of the work which is covered, but if you are in any confusion it’s advisable to hire a chartered surveyor to inspect the site and provide a professional opinion.
If it is found that Notice is not legally required, you may want your surveyor to write a letter to your adjoining neighbours informing them that is the case, to prevent complications further down the line.
2. Can I revoke my consent to a Party Wall Notice?
Let’s be honest, this question is usually because an issue has arisen which was not apparent when consent was first given. Typically this is something like the occurrence of property damage, or a necessity for contractors to access the adjoining home.
Even if there are reasonable grounds for dissenting, it’s wise to try and speak to the property owner before escalating the matter. Ideally, they will appreciate the opportunity to resolve the problem amicably, and at a significantly cheaper cost than arranging surveyors to negotiate on your behalves.
If you cannot reach a resolution, you should seek advice from an experienced firm, like H & S Surveyors Ltd., who can mediate the issue to find a fair and legal solution.
3. Is there anything I can do about the construction noise?
While it may be frustrating to put up with the noise and mess of someone else’s construction work, unfortunately adjoining owners are required to tolerate “reasonable disturbance”.
However, the property owner must comply to usual health and safety legislation and environmental protection restrictions, like keeping noisy activity within the “reasonable hours” set by your local council.
If you are concerned about the potential disruption and have not yet consented to a Party Wall Notice, you may want to consider asking your neighbour to agree to certain hours of work. This could be done informally so as not to slow down their schedule (but make sure to get your agreement in writing), or by dissenting to the Notice and getting your surveyors to include a clause in the Award.
4. What about the right to light?
There is always the possibility that extending close to a neighbour’s house will significantly reduce or block the amount of light coming through their windows. If this is the case, the property owner may be infringing upon the adjoining owner’s “right to light”. As a result, the adjoining owner may wish to seek an injunction for compensation, or to limit the scale of the project.
Even if the occupiers have enjoyed an uninterrupted view for 20 years (the length of time required for a prescriptive right to light to apply), your neighbours are only entitled to as much light as is suitable for the “continuous use and enjoyment” of their building. This means that they will not be automatically eligible for compensation if your construction interferes with their sunlight, nor will your building necessarily be stopped, adjusted or torn down.
5. Can I move the wooden fence separating our gardens?
Does the fencing belong to you? Is it on your side of the boundary line?
Usually the issue is about having something to delineate between the gardens of the two properties. If, during the construction of an extension or outbuilding, you are replacing your own fencing with a wall, then you aren’t required to put it back. If the new wall will not extend fully across the space where a timber fence currently stands, you should speak to your adjoining neighbour to agree on a suitable alternative to separate the space.
If the fencing belongs to the adjoining owners, they have the right to have the panels reinstated, on their side of the boundary. If it isn’t clear which property has responsibility for the fence, it’s best to check the titles deeds. They will either state the ownership in the text, or use “T” symbols on the title plan.