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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Déjà vu: David Tennant returns to familiar territory with Anna Gunn (‘Breaking Bad’)
tvReview: Something is missing in Gracepoint, and it's not just the familiar names
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 per annum + commission: SThree: Sthree have an exciting opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £32,000+

£18000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?