Buying house with dangerous garden wall – who is responsible?
Q: The boundary wall on the left in the back garden of the house I am buying is in a dangerous state. It is a "retaining wall" built on a steep slope and may at any time collapse into my garden. It will cost £4-5,000 to replace and my solicitor doesn't yet know who is responsible for the wall. If the wall is my responsibility, I will negotiate on the price with the purchaser. My question is - if the wall turns out to be my (new) neighbour's responsibility, how can I enforce a replacement?
This is a terraced house with unregistered title, suggesting it pre dates the mid 1920s. If there are garden walls rather than fences, typically it will be ‘Victorian’ or older. Unfortunately there is unlikely to be any document which will definitively state who owns the wall. As a common rule of thumb, if the garden wall is on the exact same alignment as the party wall which separates the houses: i.e, it straddles the extended centre line of the party wall, it is taken to be a party fence wall. In that case the wall is entirely jointly owned by each neighbour. The Party Wall etc Act 1996 gives each owner the right to repair the wall (which if necessary includes demolish and rebuild) and to claim back the cost from the neighbour in proportion to the use each makes of it. Before these rights can be exercised, the procedure provided for in the Act must be followed. If on the other hand, the wall can be proven to belong entirely to the neighbour, to our mind as surveyors, whilst the purchaser can notify the neighbour of the danger and request that he rectify it, he wouldn’t be entitled to interfere with the wall. Ultimately a dangerous structure notice to be issued by the local authority might be necessary.
Answered by Andrew McWhirter, McWhirter Locke Associates Chartered Surveyors, London
He could try to get copies of neighbour’s title if that is registered on the off-chance there is a covenant there. I assume his title, although unregistered, doesn’t have any covenant. If there’s nothing to suggest neighbour is responsible then question of enforcing doesn’t apply anyway, although generally in the absence of any indication to the contrary any wall dividing a property is deemed to be a party wall and therefore repaired as such, provided both parties agree.
It is in equal interest of both neighbours to have a wall that’s not going to collapse so the sensible route is to try to reach agreement. The seller could arrange this and ideally both parties would enter into a deed accepting joint responsibility, which would then be enforceable. But it may just be easier to try to get the price reduction and rebuild. It would probably be cheaper anyway in the long run than trying to get a reluctant neighbour to pay. It is never worth getting into a neighbour dispute since everyone will be the loser then.
Answered by Gillian White, White & Co Solicitors, London