The writer, GK Chesterton, said “your next door neighbour is not a man; he is an environment; he is the barking of a dog; he is the noise of a piano; he is a dispute about a party wall; he is drains that are worse than yours, or roses that are better than yours”. Whatever about pianos and dogs, disputes between adjoining neighbours about party walls and structures, especially maintaining or repairing them, have frequently, in the past, led to bad feelings, bitter disputes and expensive litigation. Prior to December 2009, the legal issues concerned were complex and involved. Now, however, since the introduction (on the 1st of December 2009) of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 – the most dramatic reform of Irish Land Law since the 19th century – this difficult and sensitive area of Law has been greatly clarified.
Section 44 introduces specific provisions dealing with “party structures”, which are defined in the Act as including party walls, hedges, fences, partitions or other structures which are on, close to or straddling the boundary between two properties – basically the structure which is the physical division between the two properties. An owner of property may carry out works to a party structure to enable him to comply with any statutory provision, notice or order (for instance under the Derelict Sites Act 1990 or the Fire Services Act 1981) or to carry out development for which he has planning permission, or exempted works (for which planning is not necessary) or to preserve any party structure or building or carry out any works which will not cause substantial damage or inconvenience to the adjoining owner or, if they may cause such damage or inconvenience, it is, nevertheless, reasonable to carry out such works.
“Works” are widely defined in Section 43 and include, works of decoration, demolition, improvement, maintenance, repair, replacement, strengthening or taking down, cutting shrubs, clearing or filling ditches, locating the course of cables, drains, sewers (and clearing and renewing them) or carrying out inspections and drawing up plans for such works.
However, the Act does not give a person carte blanche to do whatever he likes. The person carrying out the works must repair all or any damage caused to the property of the adjoining owner or reimburse him for its cost. The adjoining neighbour is entitled to the reasonable costs of obtaining professional advice with regard to the likely consequences of the works and be paid “reasonable compensation” for any inconvenience caused by the works. Section 44 (3) is interesting and useful and provides that if the works carried out by one neighbour benefits the other neighbour’s property, then, in certain cases, the person carrying out the works may be able to claim a contribution of their cost from the adjoining neighbour or reduce the amount of compensation payable to that neighbour to reflect the benefit he will gain from the works. If there is failure to make good any damage caused to the neighbouring property or to reimburse the neighbour or pay him compensation then an application may be brought to court in this regard. Similarly, if the adjoining owner has benefited from the works carried out and has failed to contribute for that benefit when requested; an application can similarly be made to court to resolve that issue also.
Obviously, it is best to try to reach an agreement with the adjoining owner first but, if agreement cannot be reached, the Act allows for an application to the District Court for a “Works Order” authorising the carrying out of the works and the Court, in making such Order, can impose such conditions as it deems necessary taking all the relevant circumstances into account. Such an Order, however, cannot interfere with a neighbour’s right to light, or any other right relating to the adjoining property.
While this legislation greatly clarifies the procedures, recourse to it should, of course, be a last resort and a prior mutual agreement with one’s neighbour should always be the preferred option.
– And what to do about his piano or his dog? Well, that must wait for another occasion!