How can I stop my neighbour’s leak affecting my property?
Property Clinic: Problem’s distance from your house will determine level of risk
If a neighbour’s attic leak is more than a metre away from your property, it can’t really do any significant harm to your house, apart from the untidy appearance
I live in a row of terraced houses and my neighbour seems to have a leak in her attic. It hasn’t affected my house yet but I can see where it is dripping down the back wall and it’s a slow constant trickle running in the shared guttering. Can I do anything about it or do I have to wait until it damages my property?
In reality we have little or no control over other people’s property. It can be very difficult in a mid-terrace situation such as yours when you get someone who ignores relatively simple issues like this, as it will not only do harm to the neighbouring property but create a nuisance and possibly even devalue the surrounding properties.
While clearly it would be preferable if your neighbour attended to the problem, it is very unlikely that the problem will give rise to physical damage to your property. I note from your description that the problem is arising in the neighbour’s attic, and this would be difficult to judge without actually getting into the neighbour’s attic.
I also note that you have referred to damp streaking below the shared gutter which is giving rise to damp staining to the rear wall. Your description would suggest that the problem is either due to a leak in the gutter or alternatively there could be an overflow/warning pipe serving the cold-water storage tank within the attic which is constantly overflowing.
However, what you don’t say is how close this is occurring to your property. Clearly if it is occurring at the junction with your property, then there will be a risk of damage to your property. However, if it is arising say more than a metre away from your property, then the good news is that it can’t really do any significant harm to your property, apart from the untidy appearance, and you will just have to put up with the nuisance factor.
However, if it is so close to your property that the risk of damage to your property is high, then you do need to protect yourself rather than waiting for damage to arise.
The first thing to do is to is to politely take this matter up with your neighbours and suggest that it is in their best interest to have this matter addressed properly before allowing it to manifest into a more significant problem.
If they fail to take any notice you should then approach them again and appeal to them to address this problem, if not for their own sake then for yours, as you value your own property. If this fails to yield a result, the only option is to pursue the matter legally and, in this respect, you should give a very clear warning that you are being forced into this situation and that not only do you want to see the problem resolved but that you will be seeking to recover any costs that you might incur in pursuing this matter.
However, before embarking on this route, you need to establish without doubt that the continued problem would actually give rise to damage to your property. In this respect, you could ask your local chartered building surveyor to carry out an inspection on the neighbouring property with a view to establishing the likely cause and implications of the problem. While clearly it would be preferable for the surveyor to gain access to the neighbouring property to carry out a thorough inspection, an experienced chartered building surveyor will be able to get a reasonable handle on the cause and advise you on the likelihood of this problem damaging to your property. If the survey indicates that your property is at risk of damage, then both you and your solicitor will be in a much stronger position for pursuing your neighbours to take appropriate steps to rectify the problem.
Val O’Brien is a chartered building surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie