Damage caused by a neighbour's building work: your rights
Building work in the house next door is often a nuisance, with seemingly endless noise, dust, and workmen coming and going. Usually, such disruption ends without any lasting harm, but sometimes the work can adversely affect your property.
Dawn Kiddy at Petersfields LLP in Cambridge and Haverhill outlines your options if a neighbour’s building work causes damage to your property, and she explains how a dispute resolution solicitor can help you get redress.
There are a number of ways your property can be damaged by building works next door which could harm the structural stability of your home or encroach onto your land. The most common of these would include:
- damage to your foundations, a supporting wall, or your roof caused by digging or drilling in the wrong place, and by the builders failing to ensure that areas are properly shored up while work is going ahead;
- damage from falling debris, such as scaffolding poles or bricks dropping from the work site;
- structures being built with walls that encroach on your land, either deliberately or because the boundary between your homes was incorrectly assessed; or
- damage from a later event connected to faulty works, for example fire as a result of faulty wiring, or flood damage caused by the building or removal of a shared wall.
Where there is a Party Wall Notice
Under the Party Wall Act 1996, if your neighbour wants to conduct any major building work on or near your shared walled property boundary (the party wall), they must give you written notice of the work they want to carry out, to which you must agree in writing.
A party wall is one that stands on the land of two or more owners. They can either form part of a building or be part of another form of walled division along the boundary of two properties, such as a garden wall (a wooden fence, however, does not constitute a party wall). Walls on one owner’s land utilised by other owners (two or more) to separate their buildings are also party walls.
They do not have to inform you of any minor work they are carrying out, such as plastering, erecting shelves, or replacing wiring, but they will need to get your consent and serve a ‘Party Wall Notice’ for things like building a new wall, cutting into, altering, rebuilding, or knocking down a party wall, or removing chimneys from a party wall.
You cannot stop legal work being carried out, although if you do object a process ensues where you and your neighbour each appoint a surveyor who will then agree on a ‘party wall award’ which states what work should occur and how and when it will be carried out.
Once building work begins, your neighbour has a duty under the Party Wall Act to avoid causing you unnecessary inconvenience, to protect your property from harm caused by the works, and to fix or pay for any damage that is caused.
If your property is damaged by building work next door, you should notify your neighbour as soon as possible and ask them to either have their builder fix the problem or pay you compensation which would allow you to appoint your own builder to make good the damage.
As part of this process, a surveyor may be engaged to confirm that the damage to your property was indeed caused by the neighbouring building work and to assess the cost of the damage caused.
If a party wall award was agreed before building work began and damage occurs, the party wall surveyors should be notified. If it is established that damage has actually been caused by the neighbouring works, you can choose to allow the neighbour to repair the damage or to receive compensation in lieu of making good. The party wall surveyors will agree an appropriate level of compensation based on industry standards and their experience.
If your neighbour refuses to accept responsibility for the damage, mediation may be a good next step. This involves you and your neighbour sitting down with an independent mediator who will help you talk through your dispute, without taking sides, until a resolution is reached which is acceptable to everyone.
If mediation fails, you may have no choice but to take the matter to court, though this can be a costly and time-consuming process and should only be considered as a last resort.
Where there was no Party Wall Notice
If your neighbour carried out work without serving you with a Party Wall Notice or without your consent, they will still have a duty under common law to make good or compensate you for any damage.
Indeed, although there is no statutory penalty for not serving a Party Wall Notice, courts have taken a dim view of such a failure, with the judge in Roadrunner Properties Limited v John Dean, putting the burden on the building owner to disprove a link between the damage and the work instead of the reverse which is the usual position at common law.
How a solicitor can help
If you believe your property has been damaged as a result of your neighbour’s building work, it is a good idea to seek legal advice as soon as you become aware of the damage.
We can explain your rights and various options. We can negotiate a fair settlement with your neighbour or their building contractor, liaise with surveyors, recommend a suitable mediator, or help you gather the necessary evidence to build a robust case if the matter has to go to court.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.