Your Money: Love thy neighbour? Not if his house has gone to rot

Paul Gosling looks at the laws on maintaining an empty property

Living next to an empty property is a blight that has become increasingly common during the recession.

Most of the 690,000 privately owned vacant homes are empty only temporarily, often waiting for prices to rise. But there are 250,000 homes that are long-term unoccupied, frequently decaying and causing problems of dampness, dry rot and infestation to spread into neighbouring properties.

Few homes have been empty for as long as 24 Daneshill Road in Leicester, which has not been lived in since 1980 when the owner died and there was a dispute over the will. The result is a boarded-up property going to ruin. "It is obscene that such a good house is falling down," says Christopher Reed, a neighbour. "It is a very spacious, nice, large Victorian house, and the whole place is disintegrating. The fear is what structural damage it might do to our property."

The council has made emergency repairs and has placed a charge on the house, enabling it to reclaim the cost when the property is sold.

Meanwhile, home owners like Mr Reed have inadequate legal powers to force neighbours to maintain their properties. Most existing laws are of little use unless a home owner can prove that an occupant's health or the fabric of their building is being immediately damaged.

A local authority can take action under building control regulations if a property is dangerous but not if it risks becoming damaged, or its value is reduced. A neighbour or a council could use the Environmental Protection Act to put right a home and charge the home owner but the nuisance has to be severe, for example, from dampness.

A neighbour or a council can use the Building Act of 1984 to apply for a court order for damages and to put a building into good repair if a neighbour is causing a nuisance but the problem again is proving the nuisance. Councils can use planning regulations to improve an unsightly property but seldom use these powers because of cost.

The situation may improve when the Party Wall Act is implemented, probably in April. Laws that already apply in London will then apply across England and Wales. A home owner will need to ask permission before altering a chimney or dividing wall that could affect a neighbouring property. The Act will also assist home owners to issue repair notices against neighbours where party walls are in disrepair. Where there is a dispute between neighbours, each home owner can appoint a surveyor to act on their behalf and arbitrate.

When one of the neighbours refuses to appoint their own solicitor, or fails to do so, perhaps because the ownership of the home is in dispute, then the other home owner can appoint surveyors to act for each side.

The Act will give powers, once the two surveyors agree, for a home owner to employ a builder to enter a neighbouring property to remedy a defect that is damaging a party wall. "The cost of the work would be apportioned according not only to the use of the wall but also to the responsibility for the defect," says John Anstey, partner in the surveying firm Anstey, Horne & Co, co-author of the bill. He has written a book on how the Act will work.

Getting the money out of a neighbour who has refused to look after a property can be practically impossible. Local authorities have the power to compulsorily purchase derelict properties but are reluctant because of the cost. Home owners do not have the right to force councils to purchase a derelict property compulsorily. They can, though, lodge a complaint with the Local Government Ombudsman if they believe a council is unreasonable in not using these powers.

q 'Party walls, and what to do with them', by John Anstey, will be available from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors this year.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
Louis van Gaal at the Hawthorns prior to Manchester United's game against West Brom
football

Follow the latest updates from the Monday night Premier League fixture

News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Customer Service Executive / Inbound Customer Service Agent

£18 - 23k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Customer Service Executiv...

ASP.NET Web Developer / .NET Developer

£60 - 65k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a ASP.NET Web Developer / ....

Operational Risk Manager - Asset Management

£60,000 - £80,000: Saxton Leigh: Our client is an leading Asset Manager based...

Project Coordinator - 12 month contract

£27000 - £32000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our large charity ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past