Checking neighbours rights before making an offer on a home

Both you and your potential new neighbours will have certain property rights and it is worth considering what these rights are and how the property you intend to buy might be affected by them. So what should you look out for?

terraced houses

Right of Support

Unless you are moving into a detached house surrounded by a large garden you will need to consider what might happen to adjoining houses if you want to make alterations to your property.

Party (or supporting) walls are those which mutually support each other and they are covered by the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. They include shared walls between semi-detached and terraced houses, or structures such as the floors between flats or maisonettes, plus garden boundary walls.

If you are thinking of demolishing part of a building you will need to make sure your neighbour's property is fully supported, and what that will cost.

Even if you are not demolishing walls, but excavating ground for foundations for an extension, the Act covers the effect of excavations within 3-6 metres of the property boundary. This is to protect neighbouring ground or walls collapsing into the excavation.

Right of access for repairs

If you are buying a property to do up you will need to consider your rights of access and how that might impact on your neighbour's rights. If either party needs to carry out property repairs, the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992 gives the legal right for you to go onto each other's land, if necessary, to access your own property.

The Act only makes provision for carrying out basic preservation works, which include:

  • Maintenance, repair or renewal of a building;
  • Clearance, repair or renewal of a drain, sewer, pipe or cable;
  • Filling in or clearing a ditch;
  • Felling, removal or replacement of a tree, hedge or other plant that is dead, diseased, insecurely rooted or which is likely to be dangerous.

Although you do not need permission from your neighbour to do this it is generally considered preferable to ask, either face to face or by letter. Having a chat with your potential new neighbour will give an indication of his willingness to comply.

If the neighbour refuses to let you onto his property you may need to apply for a right of access. However, the court is not obliged to grant a right of access if it believes it would cause unreasonable disturbance or interference to your neighbour.

Be aware that the court may also award compensation based on a measure of the inconvenience and damage to the neighbouring property, even if a right of access is granted.

Right to light

While there is no automatic right to light, a prescriptive easement may be acquired via the court if light has been enjoyed for a period of 20 years or more through the windows of a property.

Once prescribed, the right to light only extends to a certain amount of light, enough for the continuous use and enjoyment of the building.

It is not a right to all the light that was once enjoyed and this means it can be reduced by development.

The local planning department's residential guidelines can assess the impact of any proposed development. As a rule of thumb they use an imaginary line drawn at 45 degrees from the mid-point of the nearest window. No part of the development should cross this line. It might mean your intended 2 storey extension would never get planning permission, so it is worth investigating before you commit to purchasing.

Right to a view

The fabulous view might be the reason you have chosen a particular property, but remember there is no right to that view. If the neighbouring landowner obtains planning permission to build houses that spoil or block your view, they have every right to do so.

It is worth checking whether there are any historic or current planning applications or if the land in question has been designated for housing development in the council's local plan. Be cautious though, as even if there are neither, it is no guarantee that the land will never be developed.

Water rights

If you are considering purchasing a property where the water is sourced from a spring or watercourse which is on neighbouring land you will need to check the rights surrounding the water supply and consult a water engineer.

Your neighbours may be adversely affected if the water flow diminishes or if you increase the amount of water you take.

Green rights

You may be about to purchase a house with a green, sustainable energy source such as a wind turbine or solar panels.

Be aware that your neighbour has the right to build a new structure, which may obstruct the passage of air to your windmill or prevent sunlight reaching your solar panels. Since there is no right to air or sunshine you cannot guarantee that it will always be available to power your electricity.

Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher

About the author

Gaynor Haliday is an experienced legal researcher and published author. She has had numerous articles published in the press and is a legal industry commentator.

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