When you renovate a property or plan to expand the area of the property, there are usually two things to pay attention to: first, whether you need to apply for planning permission; second, how close the property extension is to the boundary. In many cases, the second problem may be more troublesome for homeowners, especially when your property is very close to neighbours.
A recent case saw a couple get taken to court over an extension that was too close to a neighbour’s home. Now they face the prospect of demolishing the extension, which is said to cost £80,000. Not only that, but their legal fees cost £200,000.
Keep reading to find out more about the case and how to avoid any issues with your neighbours in the event of disputes over property renovations.
Shabaz Ashraf and his wife Shakira own a property worth £700,000 in London. In 2019, they decided to build another extension to the property’s garden.
However, their expansion plan annoyed the neighbours, the Dhinjans. The Dhinjans said their neighbours’ extension had gone over the boundary, 2.68 inches off the land, and the roof over hanged the Dhinjans’ home by 3.86 inches.
They conceded that the expansion was not particularly encroaching on their borders. However, the extension was so close to their wall that there was no room for outside air to circulate, making their house very humid and often mouldy.
Face-to-face negotiations were unsuccessful, so the Dhinjans filed a lawsuit in a London court ordering the Ashrafs to demolish the extension.
Unconvinced, the Ashrafs countersued their neighbours. The Ashrafs told the judge that their house had been extended in 1970, and they had built the new extension according to the original footprint which did not encroach on other people’s land. If it can be said that this situation is encroachment, then any “encroachment” has lasted 41 years. They there have the right to occupy the land according to squatters rights (adverse possession).
Long-term squatters can become registered owners of the property or land they occupy without the owner’s permission. You can apply through a lawyer if you can prove that:
- You or a chain of squatters have occupied the property continuously for 10 years, or 12 years if not registered with the Land Registry
- You or your predecessor were owners of the property for the entire time
- You or any of your predecessors did not have permission from the landlord, e.g. the property was not originally rented to a squatter)
But lawyers representing the Dhinjans told the judge that the 2019 reconstruction exceeded the footprint of the old extension.
“While insignificant in terms of valuation, it caused significant damage to the land belonging to the claimant, which is an encroachment. In addition, the defendant has continued to conduct activities designed to annoy the claimant. Now, only the extension will be demolished and built. It’s where it’s supposed to be to keep it from mould and moisture. Money can’t make up for that damage.”
What did the judge decide?
After expert evidence and related investigations, the judge found that the statement made by the accused Ashraf couple that they built the new extension in the exact same location as the previous construction was completely untrue.
“The Joint Specialist Surveyor concluded in his report that there was 68mm of erosion. I can see from the pictures that some places were built beyond the existing boundary line, so, they are within the existing boundary The idea of building within the line is not sustainable because the pictures show where the existing boundary line is. Their new building – the wall – is clearly outside the original boundaries.”
As a result, it turns out that the wall that the Ashrafs built as an extension did indeed encroach on the claimants’ land.
In addition, the judge found that by April 2019, the Ashrafs had become aware that their expansion would encroach on someone else’s land and would constitute trespass, but they continued with their project. Such behavior is not acceptable.
Finally, the High Court ordered the Ashrafs to declare that the fence between the two houses belonged to the Dhinjans and asked the Ashrafs to remove their extension.
It reportedly cost £80,000 to tear down and rebuild the extension In addition to their own legal costs, the Ashrafs will also need to pay their neighbours’ legal costs – estimated at almost £100,000. All told, the family’s legal costs were estimated at £200,000.
As the housing market becomes more competitive, many homeowners may choose to stay put rather than sell and buy a new home. In this case, house renewal or expansion is indeed a good way to meet the needs of the owners.
However, if you are planning an extension to your home or any major construction work, be sure to understand the legal rules regarding extensions so as not to annoy your neighbours. If the situation is serious, you may be ordered by the court to demolish the building as in this case, and you will have to lose a lot of legal fees.
In conclusion, if you are concerned about neighbours blocking your plans to expand your home, it can be very helpful to have a lawyer and a surveyor at the outset of your project to help you assess this risk.
Bottom line, as with any building, it’s always worth talking to your neighbours, especially when boundary issues are involved. Let them see the plans, talk to them about the height of your build. This way, you can correct any problems in no time, speeding up the process.
If you are planning to expand your property, or if you have disagreements with your neighbours when expanding your property, please contact Lisa’s Law Solicitors. Our property law team and litigation lawyer team have many years of experience in this area and can provide you with professional expertise.
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