Our attic runs through all the houses on our terrace. Can we secure it for privacy?
You could – if so minded – walk through the attics of every house on our street
We have new neighbours moving in soon and we’d like to know our rights in terms of securing our attic. Photograph: iStock
I live in a terraced house in Dublin city centre. I don’t know how unusual this is, but our attic has no walls and you could – if so minded – walk through the attics of every house on our street. Obviously, this has issues for security but also privacy. We’ve lived here more than 15 years and have never thought to do anything. But we have new neighbours moving in soon and we’d like to know our rights in terms of securing our attic. Can you give us a steer on this?
This is not unusual in many older terrace houses where there is no compartmentalisation of attics, however for all new houses being built, in the interests of fire safety and fire stopping, all attics are independent and not shared with neighbours. It is recommended that with the agreement and support of your neighbour that the attic should be compartmentalised. Indeed, I would highly recommend this course of action to all your neighbours on fire safety grounds.
There are three aspects to consider, as follows:
(a) The precise extent of your property in the attic.
(b) The nature of the construction you need to undertake to secure and fireproof your attic.
(c) Your rights in relation to achieving (b) above.
In relation to (a) the wall dividing terraced houses is a party wall and is likely to be approximately 220mm to 450mm in width, depending on the nature of construction. While both parties benefit from the party wall, the actual property line is located on the centre of the wall unless otherwise determined by a deed or other agreement. This means that if your party wall is, say 300mm in width, you may only build on 150mm of its width without encroaching on your neighbour’s property.
In relation to (b), the half width of the party wall may not provide an adequate base for the construction of a concrete block wall in your attic, rather than a timber stud and fireboard-type construction. I strongly recommend that you engage a chartered building surveyor who will survey your attic and determine the nature of construction required for compliance.
Factors such as existing timber purlins and battens, and services crossing between attics, if any, will need to be assessed and modified, if necessary. Your surveyor will advise on suitable fire stop materials for sealing spaces immediately under the roof, and elsewhere. Your surveyor may also recommend a suitable contractor to carry out the work and also oversee and certify the completed work, if required.
In relation to (c), it will be necessary to consult your neighbours if your surveyor deems it necessary to build partially on their portion of the party wall or if any element of the roof structure or service, located in, or affecting their property, needs to be adjusted, redesigned, or rerouted.
If your neighbours object to your proposals, you may be able to proceed by way of a works order from the district court under the provisions of sections 43-47 of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009, which provide for a wide range of maintenance-related work concerning property boundaries. Your solicitor will advise on the Act’s relevance.
However, you may find that your new neighbours will co-operate if the significance and benefits of your proposal, for both parties, are explained to them. They may even contribute to the cost. – 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