Ask a Tradesman
Delayed claim for damage supposedly done by our builder
We are having issues with a neighbour who claims that a builder carrying out some work at our property caused damage to one of their walls. She has apparently had a surveyor inspect the damage and the surveyor has since been demanding that we respond to their letter within 10 days and pay £1200 for the damage or the matter will be passed on to her solicitor. (Since it has been over 10 days we are unsure as to the exact nature of these threats).
The major problem is that the builder did the work 19 months ago (April 2012). She did initially make some claim of cracks appearing when the work was being done. However, when the builder tried to speak to her about entering the property to assess any damage and carry out any necessary repairs she ignored all attempts at contact so we thought nothing more of it.
Then in September of this year we started receiving the aforementioned letters from the surveyor. Since we have never received any proof as to the nature and extent of the damage and given the delay in the neighbour choosing to pursue the matter, we don't know whether we are still liable for repairs or whether this is something that should be handled by the companies that respectively deal with our house insurances.
Everything I've read from solicitors about this suggest that we are liable (especially since our builder was potentially a bit shady and never suggested to us that we contact the council before having the work done. He said that it wouldn't need planning permission so we didn't need to bother). In turn they suggest that we sue the builder for not doing the work properly.
Any help would be gratefully received!
Works on or around a party wall including a party wall boundary should comply with the Party Wall Act. This means that details of your proposed works should have been issued / discussed with your neighbour (in most case over a glass of wine) before the works the commenced. The purpose of this is to obtain some form of written agreement from your neighbour / neighbours that they are aware of the scale and nature of works you were intending to do in the vicinity of their property and that they have no objections. In doing this the person undertaking the works agrees to repair any consequential damage to the neighbours property resulting from the new works. Again prior to commencement of any works a 'Schedule of dilapidation survey' should be carried out on the neighbours property to ascertain if there are any pre-existing defects and prevent false claim of damage being attributed to the new works. As you did not comply with the aforementioned Party wall Act and the fact that you acknowledge your neighbour did raise issue of damage to their property when the works were being done I think you will be liable for the repairs, even after the event as you are not able to prove otherwise. The duty of repair would fall on you anyhow even if you had complied with the Act.
There may well be redress against your builder on this and the fact that he informed you that you did not need planning, although I am sure he would agree 'hearsay' plus there is still a responsibility on you, as the homeowner, to check with the local planning authority. From the sounds of things I am assuming that you did not get Building Control approval either and that the works were not inspected - if this is the case I would look into getting retrospective approval otherwise you will have an illegal extension which will make it extremely difficult if you ever look to sell the property in the future.
My advice is also to seek legal guidance on all these issues.
Answered 18th Oct 2013