We live beside an ugly vacant site. What can we do to improve it?
Property Clinic: Many laws assist you but approaching owner informally is always best
Wastleland: Ensure you keep a record of the attempts you have made to get a site sorted, and weekly/monthly photographs are helpful to record the deterioration.
We live next door to a vacant site which is the subject of a protracted planning application. The hoarding used to board up the site is unsightly and regularly is vandalised with graffiti etc. Is there anything we can do to compel the owners to improve the maintenance/appearance of the site?
I can understand your frustration. In the absence of information to the contrary I’ll assume you are living in a standalone property and that ownership of the site is not in question. I’ll also assume that you have made some informal attempts to get the owners of the vacant site to rectify the situation.
If you haven’t, I’d urge you to go this route first and even if you have, I think it might be worth trying again to informally resolve the situation by approaching the owners and requesting that they take action. Disputes of this nature can have long-term impacts on relationships between neighbours and it’s worth pursuing every informal avenue.
In addition, you also need to ensure that you keep a record of the attempts you have made, and also weekly/monthly photographs of the site are helpful as they can illustrate your concerns but also record the deterioration.
Early neutral evaluation (ENE) is a process whereby both parties retain a neutral party such as a chartered surveyor to provide a non-binding evaluation on the merits of a dispute. There are no procedural requirements for ENE beyond those agreed between the parties.
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) such as this is widely encouraged by the Irish courts system as the attitude of the courts is that litigation should be a last resort.
If that approach is not successful you have recourse to the relevant local authority. Every authority has a variety of statutory responsibilities and enforcement powers under various pieces of legislation.
Under the Derelict Sites Act 1990, local authorities are responsible for dealing with derelict sites in their area. They can use certain powers to enforce the clean-up of these sites. These include prosecuting owners who do not comply with notices served, and carrying out necessary work themselves and charging the owners for the cost.
The Act defines a derelict site as any land which detracts, or is likely to detract, to a material degree from the amenity, character or appearance of land in the neighbourhood of the land in question because of:
- Structures which are in a ruinous, derelict or dangerous condition, or
- The neglected, unsightly or objectionable condition of the land or structures or
- The presence, deposit or collection of litter, rubbish, debris or waste.
The situation you describe may also be provided for in sections 43-47, inclusive, of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009. These sections provide for the access to a neighbouring property for inspection, maintenance, repair and related activities, to a boundary feature or building close to a boundary. However, where this is deemed necessary a works order from the District Court is required.
Finally, the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act 1964 may be worth exploring. Under this legislation, local authorities are responsible for dealing with dangerous places and structures in their areas. They can make an owner take action to make a site safe. In certain emergency cases, the local authority has the power to enter the site itself and make it safe. It also allows the local authority to prosecute owners who do not comply with notices served and to carry out necessary work and charge the owners for the cost.
As with any piece of legislation, getting a positive outcome can take time or money. However, often the mere commencement of action can encourage an owner to clean up a site. Before taking the next steps, I would strongly recommend that you engage the services of an experienced chartered surveyor so that you can review all your options.
Enda McGuane is a chartered planning and development surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie