MANY homeowners dread the idea of their neighbour starting up building work.
Whether it's an extension, garden landscaping or new decking – you might fear the noise and mess the work could cause.
But there are some occasions where you can object to your neighbour’s plans.
And you could even get them stopped if they are found to be doing something which isn’t legal or which negatively affects you.
There are certain rules which allow people to add extensions to their homes, or convert their loft into rooms – so if your neighbour is following the rules then there might not be much you can do.
But if they're not, you may be able to seek legal advice to help change or stop the plans.
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Joanne Ellis, a partner in the commercial and dispute resolution team at Stephensons Solicitors, said the earlier you act, the better.
“The longer it takes you to deal with something in a legal way, the less likely it becomes that anything can be done about it,” she said.
And she said that in all these cases, the legal position doesn’t really matter if you can come to an agreement with your neighbour beforehand.
“If you can find a solution that works for all of you that is absolutely the way to go,” she said.
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“If not, you can end up in litigation and it can take years to sort and can be outrageously expensive.
“Before it gets to that point, you can try formal mediation to find a solution that people can live with.”
Here are five times when you might be able to act.
If they’re building over their boundary line
“The most common issue we see is a boundary issue, where the neighbour is building over the boundary and into someone else’s property,” Joanne said.
Some boundary agreements are in writing – these would be on your property title documents, which are held by the Land Registry.
That means you can check these documents, as well as any information you were provided with at the time you bought your property, for any mention of a boundary agreement.
You can also request your neighbour’s title documents from the Land Registry to see if there’s any more information on there (it costs about £3 to do this).
But be warned – the official boundaries are quite general and lots of titles don’t have specific information on them, such as who owns a fence.
If you think you have a case, the onus will be on you to prove that your neighbour is wrong.
“If you can satisfy a court that they are definitely going to encroach onto your property then you can get an injunction to stop the building before it has started,” Joanne said.
She suggested that the Party Wall Act, which covers walls used to separate buildings, might help.
“If your property deeds say that it's a party wall that they want to build up or it falls within the Party Wall Act procedure, then your neighbour should have followed a set process to get a surveyor on board to make an agreement with you.
“We do find that people don't do that.”
If they haven’t got planning permission
Some developments don’t require planning permission.
For example, under Permitted Development Rights, it is possible to extend your home by set amounts without needing to approach your local council to get planning permission.
But if you think your neighbour’s building work is going to exceed these limits, then you can check with your local council whether they applied for the proper permission.
All planning permissions are made public, so you can see exactly what your neighbour is up to before work starts.
If they haven’t stuck to their planning permission
If they have got planning permission, you can also check whether what they are actually building matches it.
Joanne said: “If it doesn’t, you can ask the local authority to consider it.
“What action they take will depend upon how far away from the original position the building work was.”
This should be relatively easy to sort, she suggested, and you won’t have to do anything else once you report it to your council’s planning department.
If your home is protected in any way
"Often people aren't very good at checking whether they've got any restrictive covenants within their deeds that will actually protect them,” Joanne said.
If you live in a listed building, for example, there will be limits around the extent of changes you can make.
Get hold of your property deeds and your neighbour’s from the Land Registry to see if there is anything you can use.
“There might be all sorts of things in there,” said Joanne.
“It might be that your neighbour isn’t allowed to build in front of an existing building, or within a certain distance of your property, or in their back garden or a particular area.”
She also suggested checking your neighbour’s deeds for any clause which limits them from using their home for anything other than living in.
“What we have seen a lot recently is people building annexes, but depending on what they plan to do with it, you might find it's restricted if there is a clause saying the building can’t be used for work,” she said.
If it impacts the light into your home
“Your deeds might also tell you about your right to light,” Joanne said.
Right to light laws cover windows and doors which allow light into a property, and may have been set out when the home was built.
But you can acquire a right to light over a long period of time if, for example, if you have had uninterrupted light through a particular window or door for more than 20 years.
If a development is going to change this, you may be entitled to compensation or for the building to be changed to accommodate you.
Again, you can get legal advice and potentially get an injunction to stop the building or in extreme cases, to tear a building down.
This homeowner found their neighbours house was so built so close to their window that they kept smashing it every time they opened it.
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