Must we pay to move our neighbour’s pipe to facilitate our building work?
Property Clinic: The passage of time is an important consideration in any such issue
Houseowners who build extensions invariably encounter issues with existing drainage pipes, whether its location, depth, damage or concerns in relation to neighbours. Photograph: Getty
We purchased our house five years ago with a view to rebuild and slightly increase the size of the existing rear extension. When switching our mortgage recently, which required a new survey, the surveyor mentioned that our neighbour’s pipe is running alongside the existing extension, which means we would need to move this pipe to allow the build to proceed.
The original full structural survey carried out (by the same surveyor) when we purchased the house did not discover this, and there is no easement right in our title deeds. The pipe was laid about 20 years ago when a mews was erected in what was previously the back garden of our property, which is a protected structure. The planning permission for the mews house, which we inspected prior to purchasing our house, specified that the waste pipe be run to the front of the mews house rather than through our garden. However, it appears to be common practice for the waste pipes of all mews houses erected at the back of the gardens on our road to connect via the garden of the main house.
Where do we stand? Will we be expected to cover the full costs of moving the pipe, or should those costs be shared with the owner of the pipe? Do we have recourse to the surveyor who missed this?
Houseowners who plan to build extensions invariably encounter issues with existing drainage pipes, whether its location, depth, damage or concerns in relation to neighbours. The situation you have outlined is not unusual.
There are five aspects to be considered:
(a) The planning permission
(b) The easement
(c) The original survey
(d) The cost
(e) An alternative option
In relation to (a), there is no planning permission for the existing pipe in its current location and used accordingly for 20 years. Section 157(4) of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, states that a local authority may not serve notice or take proceedings for an unauthorised development after seven years from the date the unauthorised development commenced. This is known as the “seven-year rule”. It is therefore unlikely that you have any basis for redress at this stage.
In relation to (b), easements for domestic drainage pipes that traverse gardens of adjoining properties are often not recorded in the respective deeds or registered on the respective Land Registry folios. However, when such a service has been in place and used for 20 years or more without a formal grant or agreement, an “easement by prescription” may be claimed. It is therefore likely that the owner of the mews house is entitled to an easement by prescription. Furthermore, it appears the pipe was accepted in its present position by the previous owner of your house.
In relation to (c), surveys carried out on houses for structural, general condition or other purposes are normally based on what is visible and accessible to the surveyor. The surveyor’s report will clearly state this. A survey involving excavation or removal of sections of the building fabric for closer inspection requires specific arrangements and/or agreements with the relevant parties. It is possible there was nothing visible to indicate the location of the pipe during the previous survey, or alternatively that the pipe was considered to be part of a standard drainage system.
In relation to (d), the passage of time is a significant consideration in any property rights issue. Therefore, in view of the above it is unlikely that the owner of the mews house can be responsible for any portion of the cost of relocating the pipe. Their view is likely to be that you are carrying out building work on your own property and that this is a matter for you. They have what they understand to be an established and accepted easement and would be therefore entitled to the retention of that easement during and following completion of your building work.
You should notify them about your proposals and consult with them in relation to any interruption to their drainage service during your construction work. Generally, the cost of relocating a pipe to facilitate the construction of a house extension is very low in the context of the overall cost of the extension.
In relation to (e), you may have an alternative option in relation to the pipe. I do not have enough details of your plans to be more specific, but the following may be helpful. Depending on the layout of the proposed extension, there may be an option to build across the existing pipe without diverting it. If this is feasible, it is absolutely essential that the foundation is designed to have minimum clearance of the existing pipe of at least 50-100mm to avoid damage from settlement, which would result in leakage. Your chartered building surveyor or engineer will determine the clearance. This is a more economical option.
Rerouting the pipe requires the installation of inspection chambers at any bends or junctions that are created. Your building surveyor or engineer will check that any significant lengthening to the drainage route will not result in a flattening of the pipe gradient to an extent that adversely affects the required rate of flow in the pipe.
In summary, there is little you can do about the issues you are concerned about. I believe that, in relation to the pipe, irrespective of which design option is decided, your main concern should be to ensure that it is designed by your professional adviser and that he/she directly supervises the construction to ensure strict compliance with the design.
The problems, including remedial work, associated with a future pipe leakage under or around your new extension, resulting from substandard design and/or construction, would be considerably greater than any problems associated with your current concerns. – Patrick Shine
Patrick Shine is a chartered geomatics surveyor, a chartered civil engineer, and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie