Keeping neighbours on side during building works is an important element to consider when planning building works at home. Andy McCarthy, Co-founder of independent project management company, Run Projects, has provided his top tips for minimising stress levels for everybody involved.
There is one element that is often overlooked in the planning of development works, and that is your neighbours. Building works can be a source of significant stress and frustration for them which in turn can have a detrimental impact on the enjoyment of your build if not carefully managed. While neighbours have limited power to stop your project going ahead, they do have the ability to make the process more difficult and stressful than it needs to be. Taking a collaborative approach and ensuring good communication can reduce the associated angst, smoothing your overall build process. Here are a few things to think about.
One thing that is sure to infuriate your neighbours is a lack of communication. Receiving your drawings and details of your proposals directly from the local council, or the party wall notices directly from a surveyor, can often be seen as cold and unneighbourly. Taking the time to advise your neighbours of what your intentions are can help to diffuse this from the outset and open a useful dialogue.
However, being neighbourly does not mean you have to make concessions to appease your neighbours, and doing so could be a slippery slope. That said, in some instances there is no way to placate your neighbours. In these instances, there are procedures in place to protect your rights and allow you to develop your property regardless, such as the Party Wall Act 1996.
Party Wall Act
The Party Wall Act 1996 provides a framework for preventing and resolving disputes relating to building works to the party or boundary walls, or within close proximity to a neighbour’s building. The Act requires that you give your neighbours notice of the intention to undertake these works and an award will set out how these works are to be planned and undertaken. Hand delivering your party wall notices to your neighbours gives you the opportunity to talk the proposals through and alleviate some of their concerns.
We find that this often softens the process with your neighbours and means that they respond more quickly to your notice. You may even find that they are more inclined to consent to the works or to using your appointed surveyor, helping you to keep the costs of this statutory process down. Whether or not you need a Party Wall Award in place, we would always suggest undertaking a condition survey where the works have any risk of causing damage to your neighbour’s property. This survey will document the condition of your neighbour’s property before the works commence, providing a benchmark for future claims of damage. This protects both yours and your neighbours’ interests and is definitely worth undertaking.
Be firm but fair
Often neighbours incorrectly believe that they have the right to impact the design of your project, misunderstanding that proposals will be decided solely by the local Planning Department (other than where a neighbour consultation scheme is relevant, triggered by the size of an extension). Certain developments that fall within Permitted Development guidelines will be guaranteed approval, further reducing a neighbour’s influence on your designs.
Having your Project Manager or other construction professional talk a neighbour through the processes of a building project can often provide a level of comfort, but also highlight the limited control they have on your build. Some neighbours will also try to influence the way you carry out your building works, for example trying to put unreasonable restrictions on working hours to suit them. All Local Authorities provide guidance on when noisy works can occur, usually 8am-6pm Monday to Friday, 8am-1pm on Saturdays, and no noisy works on Sundays. It is therefore up to you whether you want to accommodate a neighbour’s request for specific quiet times.
Building works can be a huge source of frustration for your neighbours, from a noise perspective but also from dust, rubbish, vibration etc. Keeping your neighbours informed of what you are doing and when you are likely to be carrying out especially noisy works (or works that cause significant vibration) can go a long way to reassuring them. If they know that you are cutting back some brickwork, for example, they will be expecting noise and vibration.
If they are unaware of these works occurring, they will undoubtedly think the worst. Ensuring that your builders tidy communal areas and do not leave rubbish lying around can also avoid another source of frustration. Make sure that your builders do not block your neighbours’ access to their property, again another simple way to avoid frustration and confrontation.
Remove yourself from the process
Even when you are on great terms with your neighbours, there are often times during a build when tempers will rise and neighbours will want to complain about a specific issue. This is more than often not directed at you personally, more at the inconvenience they are suffering and frustration they are feeling. Engaging a Project Manager will remove you from this process and give your neighbours a point of contact to whom they can target their concerns or complaint. This often reduces the emotion involved and means that any issues can be resolved in a quick and practical way. This can help to maintain your great relationship with your neighbours.
Appoint a project manager
Engaging a project manager for your build can de-stress your neighbourly relations and provide a mechanism for quickly and smoothly resolving issues.