“Homeowners should be careful about getting into disputes over boundaries and party walls,” said Tom Edwards, property dispute partner at LCF. “This can affect the sale and value of their property.”
“Some homeowners think that they have the right to build on their land without thinking of the neighboring property just because it is their land, or they think so. – but they do not appreciate the traps they can fall into and which can lead to an irreversible breakdown of relations between neighbors and may be over They cost thousands of pounds.
Each case is different, the costs depend on a wide variety of factors, but they can cost tens of thousands of pounds.
Know your limits
Tom says that overstepping or misinterpreting property boundaries is a common cause of disputes.
“A family came to me for help because their neighbor, who had just finished building an extension through their driveway, thought they were entitled to use my client’s driveway to get around the back of their house. The neighbor had seen the address plans which seemed to show they owned some of their cars. My client though has been fenced in since the properties were built over 20 years ago.
“Instead of talking about things, they removed the fence when my client was at work, partially used my client’s motor to use as a driveway, and their kid started using the area they ride their bike in.”
Title plans can be misleading. The red line in the plan indicates that your general boundary does not lie in its exact location.
Tearing down fences to make room for your extension because you think you own the land may cause a legal dispute.
To avoid this, you can apply to the Land Registry who will send a surveyor to your property to determine your limits. The Land Registry will provide a cost for this.
“Alternatively, you could sign an agreement with your neighbor describing where the boundary is,” Tom said. “Or you can play the role of an investigator and review the original title deeds of your property, which in some cases may be 200 years old. This can be very complicated, so it’s best to seek advice from a professional surveyor or attorney to save you expenses and stress in the future.”
Party wall law notice
The Party Wall Act of 1996 is part of the legislation designed to prevent and resolve disputes between neighbors over construction or excavation affecting a party wall. A party wall is a common wall between you and your neighbors that is common to homes, terraces, and semi-detached homes. However, your extension may fall under the party wall rules.
Tom said, “If you want to start building work within six meters of a neighboring landlord’s house, be aware that by excavating the foundations, you may fall under the Party Wall Act, which means you must give your neighbor written notice of your plans.”
The party wall notice must include the names of the owners who plan the business, construction details, and when the work will start, be signed and dated. RICS has produced a guide for homeowners on party wall regulations. Your neighbors can take legal action if you don’t give notice.
Overhanging roof and gutters
If you build your extension to the edge of your property, even if the exterior wall does not extend beyond your neighbor’s land, it could be the overhanging roof or gutters. This is known as trespassing. Your neighbors can take you to court to force you to remove the encroachment, which could mean you have to remodel or demolish your annex.
If your extension is not built in accordance with your planning permit and your neighbor files a complaint with the council, an executive notice may be issued telling you to demolish your extension for compliance.
Respect your neighbor’s rights
Before building your extension, check if any of your neighbors have rights to the land you own such as a right of way.
“Suppose there is a lane between two properties,” Tom explained. “The owner of this route may decide to extend his property to him, but by doing so he may be depriving someone of his right of way. This may be illegal, and an injunction may be issued against you to cancel the extension.”
Tom adds that your neighbor’s right to light is another factor to consider. This means that they have the right to benefit from natural light and not sunlight.
Homeowners can learn about the rights that come with their property by reading their title deeds.
“Your title deeds might say that the neighbor cannot build more than two stories, say, to protect your natural light,” Tom said. “Owners can also acquire lighting rights over time. If you’ve used natural light on your property for 20 years or more, even if it’s not in your actions, it can become your legal right.”
If your extension blocks natural light for the next door, your neighbors can file a legal case against you. The RICS Consumer Guide on the Right to Light explains when your neighbors can file a claim.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the topic. It is recommended to take the advice of specialists in such circumstances.