Residential planning Renovation Neighbours

How to get on with your neighbours during improvement works

Q2 2018

Disputes with your neighbours can make your life a misery and affect how easy it is to sell your house. We look at how you can maintain good relationships with your neighbours while updating and improving your home.

As the ancient Greek poet Hesiod once said, “A bad neighbour is a misfortune, as much as a good one is a great blessing”. Trouble with neighbours is the most commonly experienced legal problem in the UK, so if you have good neighbours, you want to keep them.

But major home improvement works can put a strain on the most amicable neighbourly relations. It’s worth making an extra effort to get your neighbours on your side before and during work, so you can keep these relationships intact. After all, you’re going to have to live with your neighbours a lot longer than they’ll be living with your building works.

Get to know your neighbours first

Moving into a property one week and starting noisy building work the next is not going to get your relationship with your new neighbours off to the best start. Make an effort to introduce yourself first and give some warning before improvement works start.

Getting to know your neighbours will also help you appreciate how the work will impact them and allow you to be more considerate. For example, if they have a small baby, they may appreciate your builders making an effort to avoid carrying out noisy work at nap time.

This is even more important if you’re not going to be living in the property while the renovation or building work is being carried out. Discuss your plans with your neighbours in advance and introduce them to your builders. Agree on some ground rules, such as set hours for any noisy or dusty work, and make sure your neighbours have your contact number in case they have any issues or complaints.

People rarely like change, and you may not be lucky enough to have understanding neighbours. But, as Oli Custance Baker, Head of Strutt & Parker’s National Country House department, suggests, involving your neighbours from the start can have benefits for all parties. “Introduce them to the builder you are using so that they all know each other… Offer to have a weekly update so they know that you are trying to consider them. Quite often these discussions lead to the neighbours then employing the same builder to do things for them.”

Sweeten the deal

However considerate your builders, large-scale or prolonged improvement works will impact upon your neighbours, and a small token of thanks won’t go amiss. “Apologise in advance for any inconvenience and give them a case of wine as a thank you,” suggests Adrian Passingham, Director at Strutt & Parker’s Lewes office.

Or you could show your appreciation in a more practical way and help avoid any potential complaints. “I always encourage clients doing works to have their neighbours’ windows cleaned every two weeks,” says Lulu Egerton, Head of International Strategy at Strutt & Parker. “It’s only a little thing but it means mountains when their neighbours are putting up with suspended parking bays, the noise of drills and banging and dust. If the works go over a Christmas period, we also encourage clients to give a small hamper to their neighbours to say thank you!”

Remember your legal obligations

If the first your neighbours hear of your building work is the sound of a sledgehammer coming through the wall, they may understandably be annoyed. But if you don’t follow legal requirements for notification, there could be more serious consequences.

Under the Party Wall Act, you’re required to give notice to any persons affected by building work that affects a party wall, is on the boundary line between properties or involves excavation within three or six metres of a neighbouring property (depending on the depth of the foundations). This includes extensions or basement works but also inserting a damp proof course into a party wall.

You’ll need to give notice at least two months before the planned start date for work, so take this into account when scheduling your improvement works. Of course, it would be best to speak to your neighbours in advance of serving the notice to avoid any potential disputes.

If you need to put in a planning application for the work you’re carrying out, then the local council will ask your neighbours for their views of the project. Talking to your neighbours about your proposal and, if necessary, agreeing to modify your plans, can help avoid any unexpected issues when you submit your application.

There are a range of issues associated with improvement works which could open you to legal challenge. Of course, the best way to avoid any issues is to get your neighbours on your side from the outset, but you may find it useful to get some independent legal advice if you have particular concerns.