Warring Neighbours on the Increase, but Councils Will Not Step In
The Party Wall Act was designed to maintain harmony between neighbours. But it is increasingly being used as a weapon in boundary warfare.
The economy might still be struggling, but given the sheer number of builders’ vans parked outside houses up and down our roads, one industry appears to be thriving. Wherever you look, there seems to be building work going on, and if you take a stroll down any one of our streets, with rows of terraced and semi detached houses dating from the early 20th century, you will not see many that have not been improved and extended.
Our obsession with making homes bigger and better is one of the biggest factors in upsetting neighbourly harmony. Whether it is the fear that your extension will reduce the value of their home, a reluctance to live with the noise and dust of a building site next door or sheer bloody mindedness, instances of neighbours falling out over building work are on the up.
Back in the 1990s, the government of the day introduced the Party Wall Act. The whole idea of asking neighbours to sign up to a party wall agreement was to avoid disputes and keep relations cordial through a formal process of notification, consultation and consent. Unfortunately, some are using this very legislation to ramp up the animosity.
Councils take a back seat
You only need to look at the Chelmsford City planning website and you will notice a clear absence of any advice regarding party walls, although Southend-on-Sea does say: “Compliance with the Act is separate from obtaining planning permission or building regulation approval. We are not the regulatory body for this Act” – meaning, don’t contact them about it.
A case in point was this well-publicised dispute between neighbours in Blackburn. The complainant, Neal Robinson, has been in regular contact with his local council regarding what he calls a “horrendous” extension being built by his neighbour. The council has performed numerous inspections, and has confirmed that the construction is in accordance with the plans, which had been approved. As such, their hands are tied.
But perhaps the most telling comment comes at the end of the interview, when the local councillor tells Lancashire Telegraph reporter Ben Butler: “Issues relating to the party wall boundary are not conditions on the planning approval which are enforceable… The council cannot arbitrate between neighbours on matters relating to private legislation.”
Similar stories are appearing in towns and cities across the country. Guy Osborne, a litigation solicitor from London, told The Independent: “Party-wall disputes come up frequently.”
The formal process for obtaining a Party Wall Agreement is not complex when both parties are on amicable terms, but can turn into a nightmare if they are not. The applicant needs to serve a written notice of their intention, and the neighbour then has 14 days to respond. Failure to do so is considered tacit objection, and that is where things can get expensive, as surveyors need to be appointed to protect the interests of each party and to adjudicate on the application.
Friends and neighbours
Is the increase in disputes between neighbours an indicator that we are just not giving each other enough space with our endless extensions and improvements? Or is it a sign of deeper fractures in society?
A survey carried out by a high street insurance company suggests the latter. It found that while around 50 percent of those in their late 40s and early 50s socialise with their neighbours, the percentage drops to less than a third of those in their late 20s and early 30s.
Perhaps we all need to make more of an effort to get to know those that live around us. It might just save us a small fortune in the long run.