Buying a home? Check neighbours’ rights over the property first

Wherever you plan to live it is worth checking what rights your neighbours might have over your property – even if the nearest neighbour’s house is a mile away.

Any rights that another party has could affect you and your new home.

What rights might a neighbour have?

Your potential new neighbour may have access or water rights over your planned purchase.

He or she will almost certainly have a right of support and a right of light. These are particularly important if you are planning to alter a property.

The best way to investigate whether either party’s rights may affect your intended purchase is by visiting the property and considering these elements:

Right of Support and the Party Wall Act

Unless the house is detached and surrounded by a huge garden, any work you are planning will need to take into consideration nearby buildings.

If you need to make alterations to the party (or supporting) wall, i.e. an internal or external wall between two properties (including shared walls between semi-detached and terraced houses, structures such as the floors between flats or maisonettes and garden boundary walls) you will need to be aware of legislation in the Party Wall etc. Act 1996.

The Act also applies even if you are not demolishing the walls themselves, but excavating ground for foundations for an extension.

Even your planned demolition of an old brick garden outhouse and replacement with a water feature is covered by the Act, which exists to protect neighbouring ground or walls collapsing into any excavations.

The Act covers the effects of excavations as follows:

  • 3 metres – Where the new foundations of the proposed construction extend below a horizontal line drawn from the bottom of the foundations of the neighbour’s adjoining property.
  • 6 metres – Where the new foundations of the proposed construction extend below an imaginary line drawn at a forty-five-degree angle from the bottom of the foundations of the neighbour’s adjoining property.

By observing the correct procedure you may still be able to build within the prescribed distances, but you may need to appoint a surveyor to assess any impact the work might have.

Right to light

Although properties do not have an automatic right to light, a Court may grant a “prescriptive easement” if a home-owner has enjoyed daylight through a window for more than 20 years.

This easement means a neighbour will have to ensure that enough of his neighbour’s light is preserved so he can continue to use and enjoy his property, but it does not guarantee that all the light will be maintained.

As a rule of thumb, local planning department guidelines draw an imaginary 45-degree line from the nearest window’s mid-point to the ground. No part of the development should cross this line.

It might mean you wouldn’t be able to make the alterations to the house that you had in mind, or if the neighbour is planning an extension, that light, airy lounge might not be as attractive as it is now appears.

Right to a view

Unfortunately, the fabulous view that attracted you to the property might not exist forever and there’s not much you can do about it.

It’s worth checking whether any historic or current applications are registered with the local authority, since once planning permission is granted the developer has every right to build houses that might spoil or block your view.

Be aware that just because there is no formal planning application in place, it doesn’t mean there never will be – and it’s also worth checking if any of the land is designated for house building on the Local Plan.

Rights of access

The Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992 provides a legal right for neighbours to go onto each other’s land, where necessary, to access their own property, if either party needs to carry out repairs to their property. However this only covers basic preservation works such as:

  • Maintenance, repair or renewal of a building;
  • Clearance, repair or renewal of a drain, sewer, pipe or cable;
  • Filling in or clearing a ditch;
  • Felling, removal or replacement of a tree, hedge or other plant that is dead, diseased, insecurely rooted or which is likely to be dangerous.

Ordinarily you do not need permission to access a neighbour’s land to do this work, but it is courteous to discuss your plans with them beforehand and identify any objections.

If a neighbour refuses access you may need to apply for a right of access from the Court, although it is not obliged to grant the right if it believes your work may cause unreasonable interference or disturbance to your neighbour.

Even if it does grant access the Court might also award compensation to your neighbour.

Check the water rights

If the property you are considering obtains its water from a spring or other watercourse you will need to confirm whether this source is shared with another property and how the amount of water you draw affects their supply.

A water engineer can investigate your rights and the impact of any work you carry out on the water flow of all properties.

Green rights

If the property you are considering uses energy from a sustainable source, such as solar panels or a wind turbine, any development that restricts sunlight or wind flow might affect their energy generation.

Since there is no right to sunshine or air it can be difficult to safeguard these green energy sources against a development that might block them, so check with the neighbour to see if he has any plans for building an extension and how the impact might be mitigated.

Finally

Remember your solicitor is unlikely to visit the property you’re intending to buy and will rely on information in the deeds and documents from the vendor’s solicitor.

Anything that concerns you when you make your viewing should be brought to the solicitor’s attention so that it can be investigated thoroughly.