Our neighbour is building an extension and we dread the disruption

Property clinic: Neighbours can help mitigate it, but there will be some inconvenience

Q. We are a couple in our 70s living in a semi of about the same vintage. We bought our house about 25 years ago in more or less its original 1948 arrangement. We did some basic upgrading but no major structural work or extensions. The house is in one of four small south Dublin estates built by Jennings in the late 1940s.

These are now very desirable because of their generous plot size and garden space. The general pattern now is, when a house changes hands, it is followed up by a major rebuild, more often than not in doubling the size of the house. We are now faced with the prospect of the other half of our semi about to undergo a major extension and rebuild.

Looking at similar projects around the estate, this will take about 15 months. Demolishing most of the structure will take 3-4 months followed by about 10 months of actual building.

Do we, as an ageing couple without family to accommodate us during the intolerable levels of disruption from building on the other side of the party wall, have any recourse to environmental protection laws or to compensation from our neighbour for alternative accommodations etc?

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We understand from our local planning authority that there is little we can do about this type of disruption; no special conditions are applied apart from standard ones about building hours. We also understand that even when the planning section of the council apply limits to building hours the environmental section has no powers to enforce them.

We would appreciate your comments/advice in dealing with this very common topic. When we saw the planning notice on our neighbour’s house we were devastated at the prospect.

A. I empathise very much so with your concern. The type of home you reside in is hugely sought after by young couples and families due to the size of the land plot and the mature grounds which they are located on.

As a chartered building surveyor, I survey these houses regularly and prospective purchasers specifically want these properties for their development potential and for the expansive gardens associated with them.

Young families and couples’ living requirements are different to those of 25 years ago. New homeowners are seeking large, open, light-filled spaces. Therefore, house extensions being added to these dwellings are vastly different to the sunroom or kitchen return extension that was added 25 years ago.

Coming back your situation, I take it that the proposed extension to the adjoining property has been granted planning permission and it comes with the usual planning conditions. One of these planning conditions is usually around working hours for the builders and to maintain noise levels at an acceptable range.

If working hours have been spelled out, they normally stipulate weekday hours and Saturday working hours with no works permitted on Sundays.

If your adjoining neighbours intend to demolish part of the dwelling to facilitate the construction of an extension, then they are required to ensure that the works do not result in damage to your property or annoyance or discomfort to you or your family.

With the best will in the world and the most efficient builder on the job, you are going to suffer a certain degree of annoyance and inconvenience over the course of the works. However, there are ways that your neighbour could mitigate the risk of damage to your property and the annoyance caused to you:

1. Pre-works condition survey: I recommend your neighbour engages with a chartered building surveyor to carry out a pre-works condition survey on your dwelling and garden objects. This survey should be completed prior to your neighbour commencing works on site. It is in your neighbour’s interest to have this survey carried out.

2. Neighbourly meeting: I would hope that your new neighbour will have the foresight to meet with you to discuss their proposed building works prior to the commencement of the works.

3. Builder Interaction: A good builder will always make contact with an adjoining property owner prior to them commencing on site. I must admit not all builders do this though.

Meeting

Should the lines of communication from your neighbour’s side not be forthcoming, then I recommend you consult your neighbour and request a meeting with them and their builder.

At this meeting the following few steps should be considered:

Your concerns: These might range from you or your partner having underlying health conditions to the hosting of an event or party in your home. These matters will need to be explained to the neighbours. The contractor needs to ensure that dust is not generated from the works and if works have the potential to generate dust, then the site should be dampened down with water.

Noise levels need to be kept to a minimum during certain times. You may be thinking of taking a holiday over the course of the works. When you are on holiday, it would be a perfect time for the builder to undertake noisy or dusty elements of the works. You should convey your vacation plans to the parties, so the builder can consider executing elements of the works during your vacation.

Methods of construction: I note that you consider the works will take 15 months to complete. However, at this pre-works meeting, this concern could be discussed. A solution to this issue could be that your neighbour would consider fabricating part of the extension off site (prefabricated construction). This method of construction is extremely popular and its use could halve the duration of the project.

Traffic Management: The builder needs to maintain a tidy site with all building materials and plant to be maintained on their side of the site. Service roads and pavements must be kept clear.

I have come across situations where the adjoining neighbour does not communicate his or her plans with anyone. The first the neighbours become aware of the works is when the convoy of builder’s vans arrive early some morning. It’s good to communicate and you are going to be neighbours when the works are complete. If communication issues do arise, you have recourse through the local authority should you find your neighbours are breaching permitted working times and or causing environmental pollution.

The alternative would of course be to consult your legal advisor should you have concerns. However, I would recommend exhausting all other avenues before going down that route.

As the phone ad once said – “It’s good to talk”.

Andrew O’Gorman is a chartered building surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie.