Our neighbour’s oil tank leaked into our garden. What can we do?

Property Clinic: Reinstating buildings and land damaged by an oil leak can be costly

We are looking for some advice regarding our situation. Last July our neighbour had an oil leak from their boiler and the oil seeped into their garden and proceeded into our garden under a boundary wall. It is estimated approximately 700 litres spilled between both gardens. Both gardens had been analysed and reports sent to our neighbour’s insurance company, but their insurance company have denied liability for our claim. Our question is, what is our situation? And have you come across similar situations? We could claim on our insurance but that would obviously impact on our policy.

Home heating oil is a highly-contaminant material when it is poorly housed and accidentally displaced. Oil remains the single dominant home-heating fuel in Ireland, accounting for 40 per cent of all supply (Energy in Ireland Report 2020 - SEAI).

Leaks from oil storage tanks, oil pipes, oil boilers etc are quite common, and in some cases, they remain undetected for periods, resulting in large volumes of oil seeping into buildings and underground.

Oil deliveries to homes are largely professionally managed and involve a simple delivery from the oil company into the oil storage tank at the property. It is rare for oil leaks to occur from the oil delivery.

From my experience oil leaks can result for a number of reasons. These commonly include:

Accidently overfilling the oil tank.

Accidental damage to oil tanks, boilers and oil pipes.

Normal ageing of oil storage tanks, oil pipes, etc.

Construction damage.

Tampering with oil tanks to drain the tank.

Theft of boiler parts.

Carelessness when “home filling” oil tanks with a series of small plastic drums.

The costs

Having been involved in the investigation of a number of oil leaks over the years at residential properties, I know that the costs involved in decontaminating buildings and reinstating land can be substantial.

It is disappointing to hear that your neighbour’s insurers are not prepared to compensate you for your loss. Your property will, I assume, have been badly damaged and devalued as a result of the contamination.

It is my professional opinion that your only recourse at this stage is to notify your own insurance company and to have them assess the damage to your property for the purposes of compensating you for your loss.

Given the length of time that has elapsed since the oil leak occurred, I also recommend you consult a solicitor who has experience of such cases to provide you with legal advice.

You will also require the services of a chartered building surveyor to assist you with your claim either through the insurers or via the legal route. The surveyor’s report will include an assessment of the damage and the reinstatement works required to remedy the matter.

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