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Feeling railroaded by neighbours

(31 Posts)
MortaIWombat Mon 10-Mar-14 23:54:50

Neighbours came round on Thursday with a 'Party Structure Notice' for me to sign. They've been talking about getting a loft conversion for a couple of years now. They asked me to sign the paperwork, after showing some sketches (which I couldn't really visualise, but hey), and said their builder wanted to start work today (Monday).

I took the papers for a read, got madly googling, and called a surveyor to look over the plans and party wall agreement, as I'm not familiar with building regs at all. He's probably going to get the plans in a few days, and I had to tell my (lovely) neighbours that I wouldn't be signing until I'd had an expert check them over (terraced house, so a bit worried that the Victorian party wall might not take the strain of a whole extra layer of stuff!) - especially on our clay soil...

Anyway, came home today to find a pile of small bits of rubble in and outside my fireplace. Their builder's obviously started work. Don't know what he's done, but sandy-coloured chunks of stone seem to suggest more than just a bit of soot dislodged - he's drilled right through into my chimney breast.

Where do I stand? How do I ensure
a) My house is safe and not going to collapse (like one around the corner did shock )?
b) Neighbours' builder isn't a complete shyster - because he sounds it (a whole other story)?
c) I'm not left spending loads getting my wall and chimney mended?

I've already bloody agreed to let him put scaffolding up in my side return for two months. I just feel they're taking the piss, and I worry about my lovely house decaying at the best of times, given its age, without someone hastening its end by drilling chunks out of it.
Very tempted to light a fire and see if they have got a leak out into their side

Thanks for reading, if you have. I've also got a parent seriously ill in hospital, and I just feel really angry and helpless that, knowing this, neighbours have served a notice and hassled me to sign it within three days, when a quick google suggests it can be served up to a year in advance of works beginning, then they let their builder begin attacking the party wall even before I've agreed, and then basically ignored my call asking what's going on.
Argh. Tell me to stop being so precious, and my house won't be damaged, and these are normal neighbours. sad

MrsFlorrick Tue 11-Mar-14 00:06:12

You can stop the work to the party wall as they have commenced without you signing a pwa.

Take photos for evidence as because they have started work prior to party wall agreement, they are fully liable for everything. And in fact anything you care to make them repair!

If you want the work stopped, call your local building control and tell them what your neighbour is doing and they will attend site and stop it.

You can hold them up for months while you decide whether you wish to sign and what you're prepared to agree to.

And while you're at it, ask them to remove their scaffolding. Tell them as they have commenced work on party wall prior to your agreement, you no longer consent to the presence of the scaffold. If they refuse to remove, police and building control.

Given your chimney stacks are involved and the wall dividing the properties as well as holding up the roof, you must be satisfied through the report of a structural engineer that the work they wish to do is safe, that foundations are adequate and it will not damage or devalue your property.

There is lots more. Get your surveyor to advise you and he can send his bill to your neighbour as they are legally bound to pay for your party wall surveyor.

It infuriates me that people do this sort of thing. For all you know, they've not had any proper design or construction advice other than a cowboy builder who says it's all good. It could devalue your home, endanger you and your family. angryangry

zipzap Tue 11-Mar-14 00:07:14

If you've asked a surveyor to look at things for you then I'd either ring him/her up and ask what you should do as you think they have started judging by the evidence you've just told us, or ring up the building inspector or planning dept at the council and ask their advice.

Then I'd go around and say to the neighbours that you are concerned that they have started as you haven't yet signed the party wall agreement and that they need to stop until it has been signed. And if there are any consequences - then mention them. Am I right in thinking they also need to pay your costs for the surveyor? Might be worth finding out and mentioning it to them.

I'd also get a dedicated notebook and record everything as it happens so you have a contemporaneous account of events should there be any problems in the future. I'd also be taking pictures of anything suspicious such as the stuff in your fireplace with something before and afterwards (newspaper? News on tv? Smartphone?) that shows day (and maybe time) so you know when they were taken and so that the neighrbours don't try to wiggle out saying they did something 'ages ago' when it was yesterday or today.

Good luck!

MortaIWombat Tue 11-Mar-14 00:09:23

Thankfully they haven't put scaffolding up yet (their builder's just inside the roof space, I think).
And thank you for your reply. I now realise I was really hoping someone would reassure me it'll be fine. Oh dear....

MrsFlorrick Tue 11-Mar-14 00:10:37

First thing tomorrow call building control. Your neighbour cannot ignore the,

It's the only way you'll get anything sorted.

Besides if they are behaving like this, you can safely assume that it's all on a wing and a prayer and they've taken no professional or structural advice.

Be strong and kick them into touch.

This sort of behaviour just isn't acceptable in any way given the problems it can cause.

And don't accept your neighbour saying they will pay for any damage. What if they don't have two pence to rub together and their builder is uninsured (which he probably is because he has started work prior to the party wall agreement being signed!)

So angryangryangry for you!

MrsFlorrick Tue 11-Mar-14 00:13:01

Zip zap.

Where someone starts work prior to a party wall agreement being signed, they immediately become liable for ALL defects even those who occurred prior or work starting. And that's because it's almost impossible to determine what happened when and how without party wall agreement and a condition survey prior.

noddyholder Tue 11-Mar-14 08:17:36

Lots of people have lofts done in old terraces Why do you want to stop them? The building inspector will check at intervals te integrity of the work etc

noddyholder Tue 11-Mar-14 08:22:23

They are following procedure and no one seems to be doing anything unusual here wrt converting a loft. It needs a PWA and it needs scaffolding Your house will be fine

whineaholic Tue 11-Mar-14 09:39:33

But she hasnt signed the PWA noddy - that's the whole point!

Ladyface Tue 11-Mar-14 09:58:58

Agree with the poster who says call Buildings Control at your local council. My neighbour started removing the chimney breast on his side without telling us what was going on (semi detached house). The first we knew about it was when plaster dust started flying out of our light fittings and the wall was vibrating. The buildings inspector went round and politely informed him that he had to comply with buildings regs. He did storm round our house to complain that he had to pay £300 and we should mind our own business! grin

noddyholder Tue 11-Mar-14 10:05:34

Once its signed Building Control will be in charge and she will be protected.

ajandjjmum Tue 11-Mar-14 10:28:18

You are absolutely right to get professional advice - and follow it.

Your neighbours might seem lovely, but if they're proceeding with building works regardless of the lack of agreement, they are really not that lovely!

Sorry you've got so much on your plate at the moment.

MrsFlorrick Tue 11-Mar-14 12:00:20

Noddy. No she won't.

If her neighbours have chosen, for example to alter the load bearing structure of the roof and loading this into the party wall and the foundations can't take it, then there is NO comeback! Other than suing neighbours.

Building control do not operate warranty policies. They simply enforce Best Practise. Nothing else.

If the OP doesn't want to risk her load bearing party wall subsiding in the future or other structural damage. She needs her own party wall surveyor to ensure that no additional or new loads are placed on the party wall and if they are a structural engineer (paid for by neighbour) has to issue a warranty for his structural
Load calculations.

If the OP just signs and waits, she isn't protected in anyway and if something happened she would have to take neighbour to High Court. It's likely her neighbours won't have the money to compensate. And as the builder is breaking the rules already, he won't be insured.

The OPs own buildings insurance won't necessarily pay out because they will have deemed that procedure wasn't followed.

There are time scales on notices of party wall. They should always be followed and are there for a reason.

It's likely that building control are unaware and its an illegal conversion.

For all you know the OPs neighbours a amateur "developers" who have refurbed a few houses and sell up and disappear before things go wrong!

OP. building control first. Then your own independent party wall surveyor (which neighbour is legally obliged to pay for). And if your neighbours get the hump so what. They have acted illegally and tried to rail
Road you into something which is in their interest only.

LondonGirl83 Tue 11-Mar-14 12:13:51

There is a lot of incorrect info on this thread!

The UK system has 3 different procedures governing work, each with their own unique responsibilities.

1. Planning ensures the design of what you propose to build is within planning guidelines- nothing else and if your work falls under permitted development a formal application isn't necessary.

2. Building control ensures what you build is sound structurally an up to code. Full construction plans always have to be approved by building control for major work and that department's sign off is more than sufficient to know the planned work is up to scratch. Building control however do not care if you have planning permission or if you Have a party wall agreement- it's out of their remit. Ensure building control has been notified about the work and see if full plans have been pre-approved.

3. A Partywall award details how work to the shared wall will be done in terms of access rights, working hours, etc. it also comes with a condition schedule that notes the state of the neighbours property before work starts so if any damage occurs it's clear but it also protects the person doing work from false and malicious claims. If you get on with your neighbours and can agree these points yourself (including taking photos of the Partywall before work starts) then a full award is totally unnecessary and you can just consent to the notice. The Partyall Act is largely designed for dispute resolution when people can't agree though the public seem very confused about this. The Act doesn't allow you to prevent your neighbour from doing work nor does it ensure the work is up to code. If your neighbour starts work to the Partywall before you have formally consented or an award is drawn up via the dispute process this is a civil offence and your only recourse is to file an injunction in court. Keep in mind that a lot of the work involved with doing a loft is not related to the Partywall and your neighbour can start those elements whenever they want. If you feel you have suffered damages, you can also sue your neighbour in court and they will have to prove their work didn't cause the damage rather than you having to prove it did. However, it's not a blank check to make false claims for damages.

Why don't you speak to your neighbour and then double check that building control have been notified. Page loft really isn't something worth falling out over though I think your neighbours should be communicating more clearly with you.

MrsFlorrick Tue 11-Mar-14 12:31:39

Erm. London if you had bothered reading properly, you would see that's what is being said.

If the OPs neighbour is willing to proceed without PWA, it is likely they don't have Building Control approval either.
Both are need for loft conversion in a semi.
And in some areas planning consent is also required and its worth checking that they have this.

And as for civil recourse under a PWA. Yes it's still civil recourse. However the OPs buildings insurance would likely take it on. Where as if the OP signs up to any old thing under a pWA or let the building works proceed without a pwA but with her knowledge her buildings insurance is void.
Patronising much London?

AngelaDaviesHair Tue 11-Mar-14 12:35:26

OP hasn't said she will be objecting to the proposed works has she? The whole point is that she should have an opportunity to discuss the plans with a surveyor first, while the neighbours seem to want to railroad her into going along with it all.

LondonGirl83 Tue 11-Mar-14 12:39:05

Also building control do regular inspections to verify the proposed construction plans are being executed faithfully. Their involvement really is your best protection.

Having a Partywall award also doesn't make it any easier to get compensation if your neighbour doesn't have the money.

LondonGirl83 Tue 11-Mar-14 12:50:09

People seemed to be suggesting that building control would stop the works because of a lack of Partywall agreement. That's incorrect. If building control are already aware of the works they won't do anything. It's a big assumption to suggest they are ignoring building control. A lot of builders and people doing work do file for building regs without doing he notices statistically and these people have filed the notices though perhaps aren't following procedure. Suggesting they are cowboys is therefore in my view a stretch. Moreover it is still an assumption that they are not following procedure. The work related to the party wall for a loft is primarily the pad stones. The builder can legally get on with a lot of other work while waiting for the notice consent.

That's why I suggested the OP should double check everything is ok with building control and then clarify exactly what is being done at the moment with the neighbour

AngelaDaviesHair Tue 11-Mar-14 13:02:26

Is it possible they have got the builder to start a minor task just so they can say they've started work before new rules come in or any relevant consent expires? We did this, though in our case we had our PWA and the 'work' consisted of digging a large hole.

noddyholder Tue 11-Mar-14 13:05:45

No they wouldn't stop the works but they would if they didn't comply with safety etc. A PWA is just a notice ime. You need pretty good reason to refuse to sign iirc

LondonGirl83 Tue 11-Mar-14 13:12:15

Agree 100 percent noddy with a all of that. If building regs have been notified there isn't any better way to get comfortable the works will be safe.

noddyholder Tue 11-Mar-14 13:15:42

OP is there anything that makes you think their architect or builders won't be up to scratch?

MortaIWombat Tue 11-Mar-14 20:02:20

Thanks for all the replies and helpful advice and support, everyone. Sorry to take ages to get back to the thread; work got in the way.

I'd like, ideally, to sign the PSN, maintain good relations with the neighbours, and have a house in a stable and attractive condition. I've emailed their plans to my surveyor, who may be able to squeeze in a visit next week to check - well, whatever it is they check! <a bit helpless here> Presumably that the plans drawn up by their builder do not put too much strain on the party wall/chimney breast etc.

It sounds as though, from what MrsFlorrick, Ladyface, Noddy and LondonGirl are saying, that I need to contact Building Control now. The dumb question is, how do I do that? I've had a look on the council page, but the FAQ doesn't mention how to check whether building plans have been approved, only what you need to get approval for, and how to submit your own plans. If I just email/call the number if I ever get through will they tell me over the phone, do you think? There's no suggestion on the builder's plan drawing that there's any sort of council reference number or anything.

Meanwhile, the scaffolding's already up, and I've taken photos of all internal party walls and the chimney mess.

MortaIWombat Tue 11-Mar-14 20:09:29

Oh, noddy - what architect? hmm <hollow laugh>

Neighbours have been happily saying that they chose this builder (in the singular) because he always finishes on time. No other consideration has been mentioned. As the only other work he's done for them is apparently fitting a bathroom and a stud wall, I am not full of confidence. But I admit that I am a glass half empty kinda gal.
His plans (all four A4 sheets of them) are not even as detailed as an IKEA instruction leaflet. grin

ajandjjmum Tue 11-Mar-14 20:12:48

You contact Building Control through the Planning Department at your local council.

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