How do I gain access to the house next door?
Often householders and landowners need to gain access to neighbouring property to carry out works to their own property. Almost always, good neighbourly relations and common sense mean that all the person needs to do is ask; permission is freely given and that is the end of that.
Sometimes though, permission is not freely given. If so, the person needing to do work can appeal to the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992 (‘ANLA’). If a person needs to carry out works to his own land that are reasonably necessary for the preservation of that land, and such works would be substantially more difficult or impossible to carry out without access to the neighbouring land, then the Court may grant an order enabling such access.
In Prime London Holdings 11 Ltd v Thurloe Lodge Ltd, Prime London was renovating and improving Amberwood House, recently featured on ‘Britain’s Most Expensive Houses’. The parties fell out and Prime London asked the Court to order access to a restricted passage at Thurloe Lodge to re-render and repaint a wall of Amberwood House. The works proposed by Prime London included taking scaffolding through Thurloe Lodge itself and constructing it in the passageway to carry out the re-rendering and painting. The scaffolding would be removed and damage made good.
Thurloe proposed alternative, more expensive works that did not require access through Thurloe Lodge. Both methods involved total obstruction of the passage for six to eight days. Thurloe also said the proposed timing had substantial knock-on effects on its own renovation project, and fought hard to prevent access.
The High Court gave useful guidance on the following issues, and granted an Order for access under the Act for the first time.
- Are the works ‘reasonably necessary for the preservation of land’? Thurloe as defendant argued that because Prime London had removed the render as part of its project, the re-rendering was not ‘reasonably necessary’, and so access should be refused. Judge Thompsell did not agree: re-rendering needed to be carried out regularly in any event. Nor was the fact that re-rendering was required in part for aesthetic purposes sufficient to refuse the order. Rendering was required for the basic preservation of the building;
- Would the Order cause interference with or disturbance of, the use and enjoyment of Thurloe Lodge? The answer was clearly yes: the passageway would be obstructed;
- If the Order is granted would Thurloe or anyone occupying the land suffer hardship? Thurloe said the significant financial loss they would suffer by reason of delay to their own project, including penalty payments to their contractors and delay in sale of Thurloe Lodge once redeveloped would be ‘hardship’. The Court considered that hardship could include financial hardship, which should be considered and compensated when setting out the terms on which an order should be granted. If the Order provided for compensation, Thurloe could not actually suffer financial hardship; and
- Taking all the interference disturbance and hardship into account, would it be unreasonable for the Court to order access to Thurloe Lodge? Thurloe said it needed only to show a minor interference disturbance or hardship to make it unreasonable to make an Access Order. The Judge did not agree: the nature of each property and each owner involved needed to be taken into account. For example, if a (probably theoretical) nuclear reactor needed urgent repair, only the highest level of interference disturbance or hardship could justify refusal of the Order. Most importantly, the Court must try, by framing the Order appropriately, to mitigate or remove the causes of interference, disturbance and/or hardship. Compensation should relieve financial hardship; timing of work might mitigate disturbance; alternative – possibly more expensive – methodologies should be considered for the work; Health and Safety concerns could be dealt with by supervision by Thurloe personnel at Prime London’s cost.
Taking all this into account, unsurprisingly Prime London was granted its Access Order at a considerable cost. Equally unsurprisingly, the Judge called on landowners to ‘love thy neighbour’ and avoid expensive legal disputes over access to neighbouring land. He has given landowners useful guidance in how to resolve such disputes without going to Court.