On 12 September, Kensington resident Zipporah Lisle-Mainwaring won her colourful battle to demolish and rebuild her red and white stripped elegant townhouse. It was the latest turn in a four-year battle with her neighbours, who had objected to her earlier plans to redevelop the home.

Whilst it is perhaps unusual for a dispute with neighbours to result in the demolition and rebuild of a home, building works of any kind involving mews or terraced houses can all too often stretch neighbourly relationships to breaking point.

Property owners looking to demolish or redevelop a mews or terraced houses, irrespective of the relationship they have with their neighbours, have common law duty of care owed to their neighbours. Committing yourself to effective communication is the most prudent way to discharge the sometimes hidden and onerous obligations owed to adjoining property owners.

Specific requirements are expected of property owners when carrying out works within the scope of the Party Wall Act etc. 1996 ('the Act'). Such works may include repairs to existing party walls, the building of any new walls, whether entirely on your own land or party walls split between properties, and excavations close to your neighbour's buildings.

The Act imposes strict requirements for communication in relation to such works, and property owners need to be careful to ensure they give the required amount of notice to their neighbours: two months for working on existing walls, one month for building new walls or excavating. The construction of new walls or party fence walls always requires notice be served, irrespective of whether the neighbour has already given prior written consent. These notices must be clear and include up-to-date plans of the works; this is important, because if your plan changes during this notice period, a new notice must be sent and the required notice period effectively recommences.

Any works so notified must then be commenced within 12 months. Property owners are liable to compensate any adjoining neighbour for damage to property caused by the works and to ensure contractors exercise all reasonable care when carrying out the works and avoid causing unnecessary inconvenience to a neighbour.

Neighbours have various options available to them in respect of any notice served: first, to consent in writing to the planned works; second, to serve a counter-notice within one month of receiving a notice of planned works; third, to decline to consent in writing, or to do nothing. In this last case a dispute may arise, triggering a requirement for party wall surveyors to be appointed and to make an award that will govern the contentious issues. Most commonly these include what, when and how works are to be undertaken.

Protection for neighbours

Neighbours cannot generally prevent a property owner from carrying out works that they are entitled to undertake, but their interests can be protected in a number of ways.

A party wall agreement can provide an extra layer of security for a neighbour. Drawn up by the party wall surveyors appointed by the two neighbours, the agreement usually includes details of the proposed works, the contractor (including their agreed working hours and level of public liability insurance) and the condition of the neighbour's property before the works, as well as indemnities given by the property owner to the neighbour and assurances to pay their surveyor's fees.

It is important that contractors comply with any terms in party wall agreements and disputed party wall awards or the building owner risks paying compensation under the agreement. Additionally, London councils impose Codes of Construction Practice, and certain councils, particularly within conservation areas such as Kensington and Chelsea, have stricter rules controlling how and when contractors can carry out works to ensure levels of noise, vibration and dust are kept to acceptable levels. Where necessary, under the Control of Pollution Act 1974, councils have wide powers to serve notices imposing certain requirements on contractors when carrying out any works, detailing the hours of machine use and the allowed level of noise. Contravention of these notices is a criminal offence.

With many councils only becoming stricter in the level of noise and disturbance to neighbours allowed during works, it is prudent for any property owner to fully consider the level of notice they owe a neighbour. Notifying adjoining neighbours of potential noise and works in advance, and maintaining good communication throughout, can ultimately result in a more successful redevelopment.

This article appeared in PrimeResi on 21 September 2017.