Neighbours and the public
You may be liable to others if you do something that interferes with their “enjoyment” (ability to reasonably use) their property. This area of the law is known as “private nuisance”. It covers the creation of noise, vibration and other disturbance, smells, and excessive attendance by visitors generally.
- The same kind of activities can also give rise to public nuisance, which is not enforced by a personal legal action, but by a prosecuting local or public authority.
- There is also potential public liability under environmental legislation where emissions are made from the property.
- If you are planning to carry out works near a boundary of a neighbouring property you should consider whether Party Wall legislation applies. This includes obligations to notify neighbours of works to party structures, and in some cases near party structures.
- Party wall legislation generally only applies where the boundary is shared between you and your neighbour. In other cases, responsibility for boundary structures depends on the ownership of the land on which the boundary structure is located. There is generally no obligation to maintain a boundary structure but there is potential liability with respect to any structure that may become unsafe and fall into a neighbour’s property causing personal injury or other damage.
- Neighbouring owners may have rights over your property that are not immediately apparent. Rights of way, a right to have access of light to windows and a right of support from your building by adjacent property can all be acquired by virtue of a period of long use, usually 20 years.
- A right of way is a right of the owner of one property to pass over another, and can be a temporary right under a lease or permanent. A right of way, once established, will permit the party who has the right to cross your property to prevent any obstruction to the precise access route that they are entitled to use. This could for example frustrate plans to build on your property.
- A right of light is a right to receive natural light through a particular window. Rights of light are important because they can affect the value of property that could be sold for development purposes. It is possible to register a right with the local authority that will prevent your neighbours acquiring rights of light over the 20 year period.
- Neighbours who have issues with the way that you use your property may research your authorised planning use and inform the local planning authority if they think that you are in breach of any planning restrictions. Individuals cannot take legal action based on a breach of authorised planning use, but a local planning authority is far more likely to do so if there is a complaint, than if there is none. [Town & Country Planning]