If you own commercial property, what your neighbours choose to do on their land could dramatically affect your business. If they decide to build close or onto your boundary, they could cause problems with light or change the outlook of your premises. If you have prestigious offices for example, this can be a considerable problem.
Even if they are just undertaking work or repairs to a party wall you could be affected by noise or your property could be damaged in the process. So what legal rights do you have in these circumstances and what can be done to avoid difficulties?
Check on planning permission
If construction work is proposed, you should receive written notice of a planning application from your local authority. This is your opportunity to write to the local authority expressing your concerns. You may be able to influence if and how a building or extension is constructed. Issues may include access and safety, and overlooking windows. Contact your neighbour and try to reach an agreement which satisfies your concerns.
If work has started that requires planning permission, but it has not been granted, or the work does not comply with the permission, contact the local authority immediately as they may take enforcement action.
If work has started, did you receive a notice under the Party Walls Act 1996? This Act provides a system for preventing and resolving disputes which involve party walls, party structures, boundary walls (not wooden fences), and excavations which are close to neighbouring buildings (within 3 or 6 metres depending on foundation depth).
If work has started without notice, or your property has suffered damage, or you have a right to light which is being affected, obtain urgent professional advice from a property litigation solicitor, and consider applying to the court for an injunction, if your reasonable demands are ignored.
Take a photographic dated record of the land and buildings before during, during and after any works.
Insist on proper notification
For anything other than trivial work to a party wall, the owner or occupier who intends to carry out the work should give you formal written notice of any intended work.
There are some specific aspects of the notice – for example you should receive notice at least 2 months before works begin and the notice should provide details of the developer, along with proposals for the work, and the intended start date.
Again you should respond quickly as if you haven’t responded in writing within 14 days of receiving a Party Wall Act notice, your neighbour will have the right to build up to the boundary line anyway.
If you have concerns with the proposals make contact immediately and try to come to an agreement, which should be recorded in writing. If you cannot agree, set out your concerns in writing.
The Party Walls Act allows for a complex dispute resolution procedure which involves the appointment of joint or independent surveyors. It’s of course best if you can try and agree with your neighbour. Understanding your rights is therefore crucial so do take advice from an experience property litigation solicitor if you find your business facing any of these problems.
Nigel Musgrove of Cousins Business Law offers advice on party wall disputes. Contact Nigel on 01285 847001 or email firstname.lastname@example.org