The Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 has introduced specific provisions dealing with party structures. The Act came in to force on 1 December 2009. Now, if you own a property or land you can carry out works to the party structure in order to comply with a notice or order served on you, to carry out development which is exempted development or development for which planning permission has been granted, to preserve a party structure or to carry out other works which will not cause substantial damage or inconvenience to your neighbour.
What exactly is a “party structure”? It means any arch, ceiling, ditch, fence, floor, hedge, partition, shrub, tree, wall or other structure which divides property. It includes structures which are on your neighbour’s property or those which straddle the boundary line. “Works” are also widely defined and include amongst other things maintaining, repairing, replacing, strengthening, taking down, cutting hedges and trees, clearing ditches and carrying out inspections and drawing up plans.
The new laws do not give you the absolute right to do whatever you want. If you cause damage when you are carrying out the works you must make good the damage or reimburse your neighbour in order to allow them to do so. You must also pay your neighbour the reasonable costs of them obtaining professional advice to advise them on the consequences of the works which you purpose carrying out along with reasonable compensation for the inconvenience caused by the works. You should bear in mind that if the works that you are carrying out will be of benefit to your neighbour you may in certain cases be able to claim a contribution from them. If you fail to make good the damage within a reasonable time, you fail to reimburse costs or your neighbour fails to meet your claim for contribution then an application can be made to court.
If you simply cannot agree with your neighbour then you can apply to court for an order authorising the carrying out of the works and this is called a “Works Order”. The court can order the carrying out of the works on such conditions as it thinks is necessary. These conditions may be such as to allow you to enter on to your neighbours land to carry out the works and the order may require you to either indemnify your neighbours for any damage you may cause or give security to your neighbours. The works order cannot authorise a permanent interference with or loss of any right which your neighbour may have in relation to the party structure such as the right to light.
In spite of this new piece of legislation, the best way to live harmoniously with your neighbours is to discuss any development plans with them and carry out any works with their full understanding and consent. This legislation will be very useful as a last resort if this is not possible but there is no guarantee that your relationship with your neighbour will be any better in the long run if you avail of it.