It can be a home owner’s worst nightmare when works that are happening in a neighbouring property cause damage to their own. Fortunately, the damage will often be relatively minor, such as new hairline cracks, or damage to the decorative finishes. Other times it can be far more serious, and even lead to the property needing to be completely demolished and rebuilt, such as in the well known and unfortunate case of Lea Valley Developments Ltd v Derbyshire in which the developer caused such damage to Mr Derbyshire’s block of flats that they needed to be completely demolished and rebuilt.
Regardless of the extent of the damage, the affected party will want to seek a resolution as quickly as possible. If a party wall award and schedule of condition were prepared before the works then this process is made easier as the schedule of condition will allow for easy identification of any new damage that has occurred. In situations where no schedule of condition is available the process can be far harder.
For relatively minor cosmetic damage, it may be in the best interests of both parties to seek to come to an agreement without the need for engaging surveyors to settle the matter. In such cases the two owners may agree that the person who caused the damage makes it good, or pays a sum to cover the cost of repairing the damage.
Where the damage is more serious, or where the two neighbours cannot agree a resolution, surveyors will need to be brought in to settle any matters that are in dispute between the parties. In order to do this, the surveyors will review the available information, including the schedule of condition, as well as carrying out an inspection of the properties. They will then agree and determine the matters that are in dispute via the service of an award. This award is legally binding, and in most cases will identify who is responsible for the damage and for its making good. If there is any disagreement between the owners following the issue of the award, the only option of recourse they have is to appeal the award in the County Court within 14 days of its service.
Where no party wall award or schedule of condition has been prepared, then under Section 7(2) of The Party Wall etc Act 1996, the building owner is required to make good any damage that is caused as a result of the works they carry out. Therefore, even without an award your neighbour is required under The Act to make the damage good. The difficulty here arises in proving that the damage was caused by the works. Without a schedule of condition, it is far harder to determine that the damage does not pre-date the works. There will of course be occasions where it is obvious that the damage was caused by the works, for example where a steel beam has gone through the party wall during a loft conversion. However, other times it will not be so easy, and therefore the importance of having a schedule of condition prepared before the works start cannot be reiterated enough.
In all matters where your property has been damaged by work carried out by a neighbour, your first action should be to speak to a party wall surveyor.
You can find a surveyor to help you resolve your matter by searching for a local party wall surveyor within our directory of surveyors, our by entering your town or postcode in the box below.