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Court over public sewer. Pls advise

(38 Posts)
Rivkah2018 Fri 11-Oct-19 08:57:26

My neighbours have been harassing me since I moved in 4 years ago. Over the last two years they've changed tactics, from the usual racist remarks and damaging property, to getting their solicitor to threaten court proceedings about my waste pipe which exits my house straight through to their cellar (the houses are attached and used to be one large house). The houses are Grade II listed and in a conservation area.

We've gone in circles and back to square one and I need your advise please. The deeds are unclear and no right of way for drainage is mentioned. So legally we have an issue. The pipe has been there for about 19 years, and the neighbours have lived in their house for 18 of those years.

Thames Water have confirmed they own this pipe once it leaves my house. They said it is not trespassing and and I cannot be forced to move it. But they cannot go further to assist as this is a civil issue.

The pipe can be rerouted for thousands of pounds, which I don't have as a full time working single parent. I cannot therefore rely on an easement of necessity.

My question is why is the argument that the pipe is not owned by me not good enough? My solicitor is really helpful but hasn't made this clear to me. What other proof can I get in case they get another injunction against me to move the pipe.

Any help would be so appreciated.

Thank you

OP’s posts: |
Collaborate Fri 11-Oct-19 11:11:17

Under s62 of the Law of Property Act 1925 and also the rule in Wheeldon v Burrows when land is divided like this any easements that are quasi easements are imputed in to the transfer. That means that rights of drainage exercised by one plot over the other, which would have been a right had the land been owned separately, are converted in to actual easements.

You'll have to show your deeds to a conveyancer to be absolutely sure, but also as the pipes cross someone else's land their responsibility rests with your utility supplier.

Rivkah2018 Fri 11-Oct-19 14:00:03

Thank you for responding. My barrister has used this case law in my defense and knows the pipe is owned by Thames Water, but doesn't seem to think my argument is strong enough because the pipe can be moved vs when a contractor thought it could not be moved and we added the argument of necessity. How can I strengthen my case please?

OP’s posts: |
RedHelenB Sat 12-Oct-19 08:15:17

Surely if the pipe was there when they moved in its not your issue if you moved in after them?

Rivkah2018 Sat 12-Oct-19 08:59:39

You'd think that but apparently legally that's not strong enough an argument because my deeds do not outrightly state a right of way through their home. So it could be tresspasing if I can't date the pipe, which to date I have not been able to find any documents to date it

OP’s posts: |
johnd2 Sat 12-Oct-19 19:51:42

It's not even your pipe though it's Thames waters, you aren't even allowed to change it and neither can they. If the next door have any issue they should negotiate with Thames water.
The whole point of the ownership by the water company is to prevent this kind of argument, so if they have any question they should direct it at the water company.
Themes water have a duty to provide drainage so if they aren't able to protect the rights to the existing drainage they would have to provide alternativesT at their expense.
Solicitors like to sit on the fence as if they say it's a dead cert and you lose then you'll be complaining.

beckyvardy Sat 12-Oct-19 19:55:35

Do you have home insurance? Does this include legal fees?

Rivkah2018 Sat 12-Oct-19 20:26:13

I've got a solicitor on this and I've nearly used all my legal insurance. But despite it not being my pipe it's not considered a strong enough argument. Thames Water have said this is a civil issue but they've clarified as much as they can that this isn't my pipe. I can't see anything more that they can do.
I'm not sure why it not being my pipe isn't a strong enough argument legally...

OP’s posts: |
beckyvardy Sat 12-Oct-19 21:47:56

Can you contact your water supplier and ask if this pipe leaked what would happen?

johnd2 Sun 13-Oct-19 12:03:06

Of course it not being your pipe is a strong enough argument! Thames water have all sorts of pipes, as do electrify and gas companies, and even phone companies, and if someone has an issue with any of them they can't just take legal action against customers that happen to benefit from them. It just seems ludicrous that the whole point of the legislation transferring the drain to the water company was to prevent exactly this kind of thing, yet no one is happy to put their name on the line to confirm that to you.

Rivkah2018 Sun 13-Oct-19 12:42:34

Thank you for your responses.

@beckyvardy - If the pipe leaks Thames Water would come out and fix it. The neighbours have threatened to cut it numerous times and Thames water have said that I need to call them immediately if that happens.

@johnd2 - that's what I thought! My solicitor (who is very good and open with me) just seems to think my previous defence that the pipe can't be moved, which according to a new plumber is wrong and it can be moved, has weakened my argument.

I'm just stuck. Not sure what to do now and court date looming for December.

OP’s posts: |
johnd2 Sun 13-Oct-19 12:53:22

Well the court will recognise an impossible situation, the neighbour is requesting the pipe to be moved by you, but you can't move it because it's not your pipe.
Also the neighbour can't interfere with the pipe in any way because it's not owned by them either.
Thames water would take an extremely dim view of someone interfering with it, because they have a duty to provide you with drainage and they would have to reinstate the damaged pipe as quickly as possible.
They have the legal right of access to do the necessary repairs, and if it was a deliberate or negligent action by next door, they would end up footing a large bill.
Thames water are used to dealing with this kind of thing so they would not hang around before taking action to repair, as they would be liable to you for not providing drainage.
The neighbour can take action against whoever they like about the pipe, even the bloke who works in the pub, but given you don't have the ability to move the pipe they need to deal with Thames water (who will say get lost)

fia101 Sun 13-Oct-19 12:55:54

What right would you have to move something which doesn't belong to you (ie the pipe) surely you don't have the power to move it?

Don't Thames Water I've CPO powers etc for this type of matter and powers to go onto third party land for repairs and diversion etc?

How come it's ended up in court? What remedy are the neighbours seeking?

johnd2 Sun 13-Oct-19 13:16:24

To put it another way, from the point of view of the person with the pipe that carries the neighbour's waste, if you want to build an extension and there is a lateral drain or sewer in the way or nearby, you have to prove that your work won't affect the pipe or its access. If you do want to redirect it then it is at your own expense and the water company will inspect and approve the standard you must do it to. If there's no suitable route then you simply can't redirect it. If there is a suitable route then that's fine and you would pay.
If you could just take legal action to make it someone else's problem then why would anyone pay hundreds or thousands to the water companies and contractors to move pipes that carry someone else's waste? Answer is because that's exactly how the legislation is written.

Rivkah2018 Sun 13-Oct-19 17:21:13

@fia101 they are taking me to court to move the pipe. Basically they want me to apply to Thames Water to move it and pay for that work (because it is my waste). Thames Water have said if the pipe is damaged they will look into it but seeing as this is just a threat they won't act until necessary.

@johnd2 my thoughts exactly. I'm not sure what I can do next to make my argument stronger. It is just so illogical I can't wrap my head around this. Will ask my solicitor why this isn't a strong argument and try and get a better understanding. At the moment I have been advised to ask the local council if they have proof that an inspector signed off the redevelopment of the properties. All paperwork provided by the council to date had been unclear and open to too much interpretation.

OP’s posts: |
johnd2 Sun 13-Oct-19 19:57:47

Never mind the paperwork, as long as it was like that in 2011 then it belongs to the water company. If it's not up to the right standard then that's the water company's problem as they adopted it in its existing state. I'm not a lawyer and i know lawyers are never 100% on anything, but yours are really sitting on the fence

Joe2019 Mon 14-Oct-19 00:13:27

Have a read of this. It makes it very clear that all sewerage pipes are owned by the water company since the passing of this act as a statutory instrument in 2011. The Water Industry (Schemes for Adoption of Private Sewers) Regulations 2011.

Joe2019 Mon 14-Oct-19 00:25:09

In addition any changes to the pipe would have to be agreed by both building regs, and as grade II listed would probably need planning permission as well. I think the reason your solicitor is unsure is because there have been few cases sinces 2011 when the changes came in. Presumably ou do not have an easement by prescription because it has not been there 20 years?

Joe2019 Mon 14-Oct-19 00:29:05

Sorry just checked again and the sewerage pipe is yours until the boundary of the property rather than the water company's.

Joe2019 Mon 14-Oct-19 00:34:27

But I think once it crosses from your property to your neighbours it is as Collaborate says, belonging to the water company.

Rivkah2018 Mon 14-Oct-19 06:59:11

@joe2019 we don't have an easement by prescription because ive unable to get any evidence to say the pipe has been there for 20 years. The council paper work isn't clear. I've asked again but so far I can only prove 18 years! Just a perfect storm of bad luck for the last two years!

OP’s posts: |
SleepyKat Mon 14-Oct-19 07:03:42

Your neighbours need to be taking Thames water to court and telling them to move it. It’s not your pipe! Can you look at taking counter action against them on some sort of harassment charge?

Rotolla Mon 14-Oct-19 09:24:22

This is so utterly bizarre I had to read it a few times. I’m surprised they even know what the pipe is for, is it that visible like passing across a cellar at waist height or something?

MrsMaiselsMuff Mon 14-Oct-19 09:39:26

I'm so sorry you're going through this.

Can you get something from Thames Water to confirm they have never moved the pipe? Or could a commercial engineer examine the pipe and the layout to give an expert opinion as to the age of the pipe? They don't need to be specific, just state that 'on the balance of probabilities' the pipe is more than twenty years old.

Has your solicitor considered applying to add Thames Water as a party to the claim? This would make TW sit up and take action.

I actually think that the neighbour cutting or damaging the pipe would be a good thing. That gives TW the impetus to act and do something. If the neighbour then attempted to block access they would find themselves the subject of legal action by TW.

MrsMaiselsMuff Mon 14-Oct-19 09:47:06

Also, it might sound obvious but have you asked the solicitor why the argument that the pipe does not belong to you is sufficient? If you understand their reasoning then you can start to think about next steps.

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