NEIGHBOURS AND THE LAW

IT is a principle of English law that A a man must exercise his rights over his own property without causing damage or nuisance to the property of his neighbour. Removal of the support afforded to his neighbours building by the adjacent soil is obviously an interference with the natural rights of property. There is no right to any particular means of support, only to the ordinary enjoyment of the land, which must depend on its geological formation. Excavations in loose sandy soil are more calculated to affect the foundations of an adjoining building than similar excavations in a rocky substance.

Alterations to Walls

Being a right ex jure natural, by the law of natire, the right to support does not depend on any statute but is incidental to ownership of the land and does not necessarily attach to buildings. For buildings a right to support may be acquired by grant; express when it is defined by deed or any document; implied when in the circumstances it is a necessity or is presumed; for example, where houses are built in a row or semi-detached. Therefore in pulling down or altering walls which rest against or are in contact with adjoining property, the greatest care is required because if injury be caused an actionable tort is committed and damages can be recovered.

The same rule applies to flats or to separate rooms let out to different tenants in the same house. In such cases each tenant has a right to the necessary support for his flat or room laterally and vertically, and in case of extreme necessity might-justify an entrance into adjacent premises to effect necessary repairs.

In flats it is customary for the owner to reserve possession of the staircases and lifts, and accordingly should these become defective and cause injury to the tenants or any person seeking access to the flats the owner will be responsible.

Statutory authority has been granted to regulate the supply of gas, water, and electricity to houses and in executing such work on public property, utility companies incorporated under the acts or local councils have wide powers. On private land their powers are restricted. Without the owners consent they cannot Jay any pipe under or over land, or place any wire or lamp against any building.

Right to light, unlike the right to support, is an acquired and not a natural right. When a man builds at the extreme edge of his land his neighbour is entitled to put up a wall or hoarding on his own land, although the lights of the buildings are thereby obstructed. If the neighbour takes no action for 20 years the owner is said to have acquired the right or easement to ancient lights and is entitled to enjoy the access of light to his windows free from obstruction by his neighbour.

This right he can guard by bringing an action for infringement of ancient lights, in which, however, he will not succeed unless he show that the obstruction is serious enough to diminish the amount of light necessary to the use and enjoyment of his building. In short, the question will be decided by the court on the basis of how much light is left, not how much the owner previously enjoyed. Interference with the prospect by buildings or other obstructions is not unlawful, even though as a result the value of a house is greatly reduced, nor is there any right to air. In an old case the owner of a windmill complained because buildings had been erected which diminished the access of air and made it impossible for the windmill to function, but the court dismissed his claim.

Air must not, however, be polluted A by smoke, fumes, or smells or an action may be brought for nuisance in which the offender may be mulcted in damages and ordered by injunction at the same time to cease his annoying practices.

Fumes and Smells

It is not necessary to show that the fumes or smells are dangerous to health. So long as they interfere with the ordinary standard of comfort of human existence an action may be maintained. Many different kinds of annoyances have been held to be nuisances at law under this head and restrained by injunction, among them being the burning of bricks, smoke and fumes from chemical works, a blacksmiths shoeing forge, the discharge and deposit of manure at a siding, the carrying on of a fried-fish shop, the burning of offensive refuse, overhanging eaves or spouts which cause rain-water to fall on land, the deposit of house and street refuse, and the collection of a crowd outside a circus or at a fete.

Vibration

Vibration is another annoyance for which damages can be claimed, and there is a reported case where the court awarded compensation to an owner whose premises had suffered because of pile-driving for a new building on the other side of the street.

It should be pointed out that nuisances arising from fumes, smells, or the carrying on of dangerous or noxious trades can be remedied otherwise than by an expensive action for an injunction by a householder, namely, by proceedings before the magis-trates for summary penalties. Magistrates cannot grant injunctions, various statutes provide a daily penalty whilst the nuisance continues and therefore this remedy is usually very effective. It is advisable, therefore, before bringing an action to inquire from the local sanitary authority whether they can take any steps in the matter.

Public prosecutions are only instituted when a nuisance is so grave that it affects not only neighbours but also the general public. Private nuisances affecting only particular individuals or a small number of people give a right of action for damages and injunction, and also in some cases justify a trespass.

Thus if a man leave foul refuse on his land a neighbour might justify his entrance on the property to remove it after a notice calling for its removal had been ignored. In taking the law into his own hands in this manner a person always runs a risk, and a safer course is to proceed by action.

Statutory powers exist to permit a land-owner to enter on adjoining land in order to improve the drainage. Plans must be deposited with notice of the intention to do the work, and compensation is payable is under no obligation to his neighbour to keep his house in repair or to paint it, although its dilapidated condition, broken windows and fences. And crumbling walls and so on may be an eyesore and annoyance. Should the ruinous condition of the property cause it to be a source of danger to life or property, an action may be brought, but in such case it is the wiser plan to bring the matter before the local building inspector, who can place the law in motion immediately and employ public funds (recoverable from the owner) to restore the building to a safe condition.

Overhanging trees or the roots of trees on a neighbours land may constitute a nuisance, so may poisonous shrubs which result in injury to animals. Boughs and branches of trees overhanging or roots which project into the land may be cut without giving notice to a neighbour, who has no right to damages. It makes no difference how long the branches of the tree have been hanging over the land. Eaves overhanging, or water spouts, or wire from aerials which are placed on a mans land by his neighbour can be removed.

When trees obstruct a highway a local authority may order the occupier of the land or house to have them pruned. Default may result in a summons before the magistrates who have power to order the necessary work to be done within 10 days under a penalty of £2. Non-compliance with this allows the authority to do the work themselves at the occupiers expense.

Under recent statutes trees or fences which obstruct the view at corners and render a highway dangerous may be removed with the payment of compensation to the owner of the premises.

L7ENCTNG must not be dangerous or the person who is responsible for it may be sued. Barbed wire fencing adjoining the highways if a nuisance may be removed on a magistrates order at the owners expense. Apart from any agreement or statutory obligation no man is compelled to fence his property either against his neighbour or adjoining a highway; but if he does not fence and his cattle or other animals trespass on neighbouring land, he is responsible for the damage caused.

In many districts restrictions are placed by statute or by-laws on the height to which a man may fence his property adjoining a highway. Usually there is no limit to the height of a fence between adjoining houses, save that if it reaches a height likely to interfere with a neighbours right of light an action may follow.

The ownership of fences is decided by the question in whose property the foundations rest. Where properties are separated bjr an artificial ditch and by a hedge or bank the presumption in law is that the hedge, ditch, or bank belong to the owner of the land in which the ditch is not, but in most cases nowadays the exact limits of ownership are clearly defined. In case of dispute the court will fix the boundary according to the deeds.

Party walls separating adjoining houses are deemed to be severed vertically between the respective owners, and each owner has the right of support and user over the rest of the structure as is requisite. In the case of flats or of one room let as a dwelling, every wall and the floor and ceiling may be party walls.

Rights of way over a mans property may be acquired by grant or unrestricted enjoyment over a period of years. A right of way common to owners of adjoining property must not be obstructed and if it fall into disropair the cost of repair must be divided unless the deed or lease otherwise provides. Interference with rights of way or rights to water is actionable.

MAXIM of English law is that man must use his property in such a maimer as not to cause annoyance to his neighbours. Therefore a person who for his own purposes brings on his land anything which is likely to cause mischief if it escapes docs so at his peril and is responsible for all damage naturally consequent on such escape, unless he can show that the escape was by the Act of God or through the default of the plaintiff himself. If land be flooded and the owner to get rid of the water takes steps which cause damage to neighbouring property he is liable to pay compensation.

Cases railway companies seeking to protect their lines from floods have offended in this way and been compelled to pay damages. The floods were the Act of God as they resulted from heavy rains; the attempt to remove the water was their own act and it was held that this caused the damage. A man has been ordered to pay damages becauso he allowed water to collect in his cellar from whence it percolated into his neighbours house.

Storing explosives on land is actionable if an explosion causing damage result, and damage caused by the discharge of a firework may be recovered. A man is not liable for damage to his neighbours house resulting from fire unless he has wilfully or negligently started the fire. Damage by fire includes damage by water used in suppressing the fire.

Damage caused by something which is designed to benefit both a man and his neighbour is not actionable. Where two persons dwell under one roof and a water pipe is used for carrying off rain-water for the benefit of both parties, no suit for damages can succeed unless it be shown that the defendant has been negligent. Where a leak was caused in a water tank on a mans roof which caused damage to a neighbours goods on a lower floor the court held that there was no legal liability to pay compensation.

When a stream on a mans land overflows because of an excessive rainfall and causes damage, no aetion is maintainable by a neighbour, but if the stream has been culvorted it will be maintainable.

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