Property Clinic: You must identify the owner of the wall in order to do the repairs
– This query raises a number of potential legal difficulties, including liability in the event that the wall falls and hurts someone.
My husband and I bought a semi-detached house in late 2020. We got a landscape architect to quote for work on the back garden recently, but he discovered that one side wall was wobbling. He said doing certain work wouldn’t be possible because the wall is so precarious. He said there are a few ways to strengthen it, but all involve accessing the neighbouring garden (where the pillars are), which would require agreement and/or co-operation with our neighbour.
The problem is that we’ve never met our neighbour because he has been living in a nursing home since we moved in. His brother checks on the property intermittently, but we have no contact details for him to call and discuss this.
We have a young child and need to make the wall and garden safe. The houses are joined only by the garages but our garage is converted, leaving us with no side access, so doing any work on the back garden is complicated either way and if we embark on it, we want to do as much as we can all in one go.
What are our options (legal or otherwise) in terms of getting the wall shored up?
Firstly, you should ascertain who is the owner of the wall. We recommend that you consult your solicitor and ask whether the wall is a “party/party” wall or is it owned by either yourselves or your neighbour. Your solicitor will be able to confirm this from the requisitions on title held with your title documents.
It is unfortunate, given that you only purchased the property relatively recently, that this problem was not identified as part of your pre-purchase survey.
Your solicitor should be able to identify the registered owner of your neighbouring property by doing a search on Land Direct. Obviously the most practical thing is to make contact with the owner and seek his permission for you to enter upon his property for the purposes of carrying out the necessary remedial work. You are not entitled to enter upon his property without his permission.
Neither are you entitled to interfere with a party and party wall without the permission of the co-owner. If you can establish what nursing home he resides in, there is no reason why you cannot make contact with him there provided he is of sound mind. If there is any question of your neighbour not having mental capacity to consent, the nursing home might be able to tell you whether or not his brother has any authority to act on his behalf under an enduring power of attorney or otherwise.
The lack of access to the wall appears to result from the conversion of the garage on your property rather than from an issue caused by your neighbour.
This query raises a number of potential legal difficulties, including liability in the event that the wall falls and hurts someone. As a starting point, it is imperative that you identify the owner of the adjacent property and ascertain whether he is willing to give you the permission you require to carry out the intended works.
Samantha Geraghty is a partner with P O’Connor & Son Solicitors