A property sales solicitor does not normally view a house when it is being bought but will rely on the documentation produced by the seller and, often, the estate agent to provide a full description of the house or flat to check if there are any potential risks to the new owner.
Most of the administrative procedures for drawing up a contract and exchanging it are extremely similar and the lawyer should easily spot if there is something unusual about the prospective home from a physical point of view, such as an extension which adjoins a neighbour’s home in an unconventional manner, an attic or basement which is exceptionally large in a terrace or a garden boundary which could be a source of contention.
In towns and cities where development has been hotch-potch over centuries, particularly in London, and where building land is at a premium, home owners may want to develop and extend their property to the greatest possible extent and this could give rise to disputes with neighbours, especially over the scale of the work and potential harm to the practical and financial value of the property next door.
The Party Wall Act of 1996 gives rights and responsibilities to owners whether they are planning work or if they are neighbours to it. The requirements of the Act do not affect planning permission or building regulations approval, although local authority officers will be aware of the implications of the Act.
The term ‘party wall’ in the Act does not mean just a common wall between two terraced or semi-detached properties but also floors and ceilings of flats, building against a wall (but not putting up shelves or similar fitments), excavations near a neighbouring property and a garden wall built on a boundary line.
The general principle of the Act is that neighbours must be notified and agree to any work which might have an effect on the strength and stability of the party wall and, perhaps, cause damage to the neighbour’s home.
Written agreement prior to work starting
An official notice must be sent to the neighbours seeking their written agreement at least two months before intending to start building work, except for garden boundary walls which only require a month’s warning.
There is an official disputes procedure if any neighbours object and a surveyor, backed by the civil court system, will be called in to make a judgement on the merits of the proposal and objections.
Once there is an agreement, all building work must exactly comply with what was agreed and documentation should be kept by both the owner doing the work and the neighbours so that if either home is subsequently sold it will be clear what was authorised.
When viewing a property, where possible, it is advisable to make inquiries of neighbours to check if there are any imminent plans, especially if they are not sufficiently extensive to warrant obtaining planning permission and, therefore, showing up on the pre-contract local authority searches undertaken by a conveyancing solicitor.
Disputes with neighbours can often end up causing a costly legal wrangle if a new home owner is unaware of issues such as plot boundary lines prior to moving in and some unscrupulous neighbours have been known to expedite building work prior to new owners arriving next door in case of complaints.
Photographs taken during the initial property viewing may help to establish the original status of the property should any areas of doubt arise later.
Property law advice from Healys solicitors of London and Brighton
You may not be able to choose your neighbours but you can choose who handles your residential conveyancing. Healys experienced team has extensive local knowledge of the property market, particularly in London and Brighton, and can advise on any potential areas of difficulty for a purchaser.
By consulting Healys, your interests will be protected both before and after a home purchase and should any issues relating to the property arise on which further advice is needed, the firm has links to other skilled professionals across its general legal practice and can offer representation on all aspects of the law regarding property and land.
For more information about the comprehensive and helpful conveyancing service offered by Healys, you can request a call-back via this website, email partner Kiri Kkoshi, telephone 020 7822 4148 or Darina Gowen, telephone 01273 669133.