Property Clinic

Your queries answered


Q I am the owner of an end-of-terrace duplex apartment. The bathroom does not have any natural light as it backs onto the garden of the house next door. Do I have any options regarding introducing light, for instance a glass block panel that would not necessarily open out?

How could I establish if the above is feasible? Obviously I would follow full planning requirements.

A A lot depends on the position of the bathroom relative to the adjoining garden. In the first instance, investigations should be undertaken to determine whether the insertion of an opaque window or glass block panels at this location may be exempted development.

Section 4(1)(h) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended), says that development for the maintenance, improvement or alteration of a structure involving works which do not materially affect its external appearance (making it inconsistent with the character of the structure or of neighbouring structures), is exempted development.

The test under Section 4(1)(h) is a subjective one and is determined on a case-by-case basis.

You should talk to the local planning authority. In the event that they think there is a case to be made that an opaque window/glass block panels would be exempted development, it is recommended that an application for a Section 5 Declaration be made to the local planning authority.

The cost is €80 and the local authority decision generally takes four weeks. The application would need to be supported by sufficient drawings and details to allow the local authority to make a determination. There is a right of appeal to An Bord Pleanála.

If the planning authority consider that the insertion of an opaque window/glass block panels would not be exempted development, a planning application can be made for the insertion of the window/panels.

In order to be successful, the key issues that would need to be satisfactorily addressed in such an application would be the impact on the residential amenity of the terraced house to the rear and the visual impact of the insertion of the window.

John Spain is a chartered surveyor and member of the Planning and Development Professional Group of the SCSI.

Q My neighbour has asked me to cut back trees in my garden because he says it’s affecting his satellite TV service. I would prefer not to have to go to such expense and inconvenience, is there any compulsion on me to do this?

A Leaves from trees can block the signal from an orbiting satellite getting to a TV satellite dish, reducing the quality of the TV service. This situation can get worse during the summer season when leaves are in full growth.

Understandably this must be very frustrating for your neighbour. One option for your neighbours to consider would be to change the position of the satellite dish so that the signal is not obscured by trees any more.

How feasible this is depends on whether or not there is a suitable alternative location.

Another solution could be to cut back your trees as suggested by your neighbour to ensure a clear satellite signal.

You are not required to do this because in Ireland there are no restrictions on tree or hedge height along property boundaries. A tree owner is not obliged to cut trees back unless they are deemed dangerous. Your neighbour does have the right to trim back the overhanging branches of your trees to the boundary line. These branch trimmings remain your property so your neighbour must offer to return them to you.

Although you are not obliged to cut back your trees, in the interest of neighbourly relations it is always advisable to compromise to some extent.

Cutting back the trees could be expensive and also inconvenient on your part so it may be advisable for you to come to some agreement with your neighbour to either share the cost or give them permission to go ahead and get the trees cut back at their own expense to ensure that they receive good quality TV satellite coverage.

Niamh O’Reilly is a chartered surveyor and chair of the Geomatics Professional Group of the SCSI.

Q We’re having extensive work done on our house and the property is empty. Without any windows or doors, it has become an attractive site for young fellas to try and access.

The fencing is clearly marked and both us and the builder are covered by insurance but we are concerned there still might be some liability if someone did something stupid and got hurt. Where does the law stand?

A I am assuming that you have a standard formal contract in place with your builder. Most of these put the onus on the builder to indemnify the employer against any liability regarding, (1) any loss or damage to property and, (2) personal injury or death of any person.

So if the builder did not adequately secure the site, he would be legally responsible should a third party gain access and be injured.

Note this indemnity is usually subject to several exclusions which require consideration.

The most pertinent two involved in this case are:
n Existing structures: you, as owner, remain responsible for damage to your existing house during the works for perils such as fire, storm, flood and so on. But most importantly, in your case, malicious damage also.

This remains the case even if your builder was deemed to be negligent.
n Employer’s negligence: previous case-law has found that in a personal injury situation where the employer was deemed negligent, the builder was no longer obliged to maintain the above indemnification and so the employer then became liable.

To confirm that your insurance policies cover the above exclusions, it’s very important that your broker is notified:
– That renovation works are about to start and the intended form of contract to be used.
– That the house will be vacant for the duration of the works.
– Of the contact details of the builder’s insurance broker.

Under the standard contractual arrangement the builder is usually responsible for on-site health and safety and, where possible, is given sole possession of the site to allow them to manage the works effectively which includes securing the site.

It would be prudent to notify your architect and builder of any night-time security issues that you may have noticed.

It is also important for you to observe the builder’s right to sole possession by informing them when you wish to visit site. By doing this, you will help minimise chances of injury to all concerned and also avoid instances where you could become negligent.

Finally, as with all legal and insurance queries, it’s always advisable to consult with your solicitor and insurance broker directly.

Shane McCullagh is a chartered quantity surveyor and is vice chair of the South East Region of the SCSI.

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