House Purchase and Legal Problems
The sensible householder may often wish to know what his rights and duties are, according to the law. It should, of course, be appreciated that when considering any matter of legal difficulty a solicitor should be consulted, and the problems briefly explained in this section are not intended as substitutes for legal advice. The points dealt with are those which may affect the householder as a handyman. Legal advice is also necessary when entering into house purchase, and the information given within this section should be simply regarded as a guide to procedure.
Owners of Adjoining Land:
There are various ways in which householders on adjoining land have rights and duties towards each other. The knowledge of these can do much towards the enjoyment of both properties. The owner of a house or land cannot claim the right to a free flow of air to his property, nor object to the view being obstructed by other properties. Your neighbour may at any time build or alter his property (subject to the local bye-laws) so as to shut out the flow of air or to obstruct the view, and you will have no grounds for complaint legally. On the other hand, anyone who brings any dangerous animal or thing on to his property is liable for any damage it may do to his neighbour’s person, family or property. That is unless he can prove that having taken all possible precautions against damage to others, the damage was committed due to a reason beyond his control.
Fences and Walls:
Fences and walls can cause a great deal of trouble between neighbours, unless each understands his own responsibilities in the matter. The ownership of a fence or wall is decided on each case individually in law. There is no law which actually compels a houseowner to fence in his land, or to keep the fences in good repair. In law it has been held that it is the responsibility of each householder to keep his own animals, etc., in, and not to keep his neighbours’ pets out. Where houses have party walls, most local bye-laws hold that the wall is cut perpendicularly down the centre, and that each party is responsible for the maintenance of one half. In the case of a fence with posts and buttressed walls, it is considered that ownership of the fence or wall is decided by the positions of the posts and buttresses which are placed on the side of the owner.
If the roots or branches of a tree grow into or overhang a neighbouring garden, the owner of that property has the right to cut them off without giving the owner of the tree notice of his intention; this right only holds so long as he cuts them from his own land. If it is necessary to enter the other’s land to cut overhanging trees, he must give reasonable notice to the owner of the trees. Any branches or fruit cut off the tree, no matter from which property, must be returned to the owner of the tree.
This is a right claimed by the owner of some houses, to receive a certain amount of light through a window which overlooks other property. The flow of light must have been enjoyed for a minimum period of twenty years, and even then only a reasonable amount of light can be claimed. Obstruction of the view or unsightliness of the obstruction are not considered as grounds of complaint under ‘Ancient Lights’, neither is a diminished flow of light, so long as a reasonable amount is still received.
This is the general line of building in any street or road, and the consent of the local council must be obtained before any building can be erected which extends beyond this line. To build beyond the line is an offence and you can be ordered to demolish any building built without permission. In all matters appertaining to the construction of buildings — even garden sheds — also alterations to existing buildings, the householder is advised to consult his local authority. If work is done without permission, the householder may be compelled to demolish the new work, or to restore the unauthorized alteration to its original state.
If you have no garden gate, or leave the gate open, and someone else’s dog enters and does extensive damage, you cannot claim damages from the owner.
The cleansing and keeping clear of all drain-pipes, manholes and sewers on your property is your own responsibility.
If you are the tenant of a house, it is usual for the tenant to be responsible for the decorating inside and out of the house, and for the landlord to be responsible for the constructional work. However, every tenancy is subject to the terms of the individual lease. This generally means that the tenant will have to repaint all external paintwork every three years. Also keep the garden in as good a condition as it was when the agreement was made. The tenant must not fell any trees, or alter the nature of the land on which the house is built, without the landlord’s permission.
Built-in Furniture and Fixtures:
Articles which are fixed to the structure of the house may become the property of the landlord, unless they can be removed without causing damage to the structure of the house. For instance, furniture screwed to a plugged wall can be removed, and the damage to the wall made good, but a fireplace could not be moved. Also it should be borne in mind by the tenant, that he can only remove such fixtures during his tenancy; if he leaves built-in furniture, curtain rails, etc., with a view to selling them to the new tenant, and the new tenant refuses to purchase them, he cannot then remove them.
You are not required to pay a fine if you call the fire brigade to a chimney fire. Householders who fire their chimneys so often that it becomes a public nuisance, or who deliberately fire them, may find that the police take action against them. No matter how small a fire, it is always wise to call the fire brigade, both for the sake of safety and to support any claims for insurance the householder may have to make. Fire brigades make no charge for their services. Nuisances: In every district there are bye-laws to regulate nuisances, such as noise, smoky chimneys, burning of refuse, faulty drains, etc. If such a case arises the householder should make enquiries as to the local bye-laws. If the nuisance is found to be contrary to the bye-laws, any three householders in the immediate neighbourhood may make a joint complaint to the local council, who will then serve a notice on the offender, ordering that the nuisance be abated. If this notice is not obeyed, a heavy fine can be incurred by the offender.
The law is quite clear about the way a householder shall use his garden. In law you must not use it in any way which will injure neighbouring gardens, or prevent other people from enjoying their own gardens. No one is obliged to cultivate his ground, but if you allow your garden to become overgrown with weeds, and those weeds seed into your neighbour’s garden, he can sue you for the damage to his crops. Again if a stream runs along the bottom of, or even through your garden, you must not throw rubbish, or any other offending matter, into it. The local sanitary inspector can take proceedings against anyone doing so.
A domestic animal such as a cat or a dog is presumed harmless in law and has certain rights of its own. If your dog trespasses in a neighbouring garden and does any damage, the owner of the garden can sue for damages in the County Court, but he must take no action which may harm the animal in any way, or he can be charged with a serious breach of the law. Generally the damage a cat or dog does in a garden, although annoying, is trivial in law, and if you want to take action against the owner of the animal for damages, you must be prepared to give the court very definite and accurate particulars of the damage done, the date and the amount claimed. It is pointless to try and take action for a trivial amount, or unless you have reliable witnesses that the damage was committed by a particular animal. Because a domestic animal is held to be harmless in law, its owner cannot be held liable for any damage it does contrary to its nature unless it can be proved that the owner knew of its viciousness and took no steps to prevent it harming other people.
Burst Pipes in Adjoining Premises:
A householder or tenant cannot be held responsible for damage caused to neighbouring property or neighbour’s belongings by water from aleaking into adjoining premises, unless negligence on the part of the householder or tenant can be proved.
Care of Lodger’s Property:
Any householder who lets rooms is expected in law to take every reasonable care of any belonging left in the room by a lodger. Should any such property be stolen, or damaged through the negligence of the householder, he may be liable for making good any such loss.
If while digging in your garden you dig up any precious metal, in the form of plate, coins, or jewellery, etc., it becomes ‘Treasure Trove’, and as such is the property of the Crown, unless it is possible to prove that the goods were lost and not hidden there. A coroner’s inquest is always held to decide the ownership of ‘Treasure Trove’. It is the duty of the householder to report to the police the finding of any such valuables, and to hand the articles concerned to the police for safe keeping awaiting the result of the inquest.
Read more on: