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The case was Jones and Lovegrove v Ruth and Ruth. It involved a builder in Northampton who purchased a property with plans to renovate and extend it so that it could become his family home. The plans included the addition of an extra floor, extending the rear, building onto the adjoining property, removing internal walls and replacing them with RSJs and building a garage at the rear.
The works began without any warning to the occupants of the adjoining property and without serving the appropriate Party Wall Act notices, which would have alerted the neighbours to the impending works. The necessary permissions were not obtained from the neighbours.
As the works progressed, the neighbours experienced vibrations in their property whilst the internal walls were removed, which caused extensive cracking in their walls. The work to build onto the neighbouring property caused damage to the roof which began leaking (repairs were carried out by the builders but under protest and in any event they did not resolve the problem) and part of a garden wall was removed without consent in order to allow better access for the construction of the garage.
The building works were carried out over a 4 year period on a sporadic basis and would often be accompanied by radios being played loudly during the evenings and weekends. The neighbours were not notified of the works or kept informed of progress. Whenever the neighbours raised any issues with the builder they were met with hostility and on occasion abusive notes were left in the neighbour’s house and garden.
As a result of this behaviour the neighbours suffered distress and psychiatric injury. This became so acute that one of the neighbours was unable to continue in her job and medical evidence suggested that she would not be fit to return to work for approximately 6 months after the conclusion of the claim.
The builders argued that it was not foreseeable that injury would be caused to the neighbours by carrying out the renovation works. Initially the Court upheld this argument but did agree that the conduct of the builders amounted to nuisance and harassment.
The case was referred to the Court of Appeal which decided that forseeability was not the correct test. All that needed to be established was that the acts were deliberate and that personal injury was a consequence of that act or acts.
Compensation was awarded for nuisance, distress caused by harassment, the costs of repairs to the neighbour’s house, loss of earnings, personal injury and interest.
It is estimated that the builder will face a compensation bill in excess of £250,000 plus legal costs. The value of the properties in question is less than £200,000.
This is a lesson for all developers, builders and contractors. It highlights the need to obtain and serve the necessary Party Wall Act notices and to keep neighbours fully informed of progress. They should try to work with them to ensure the building works progress smoothly and without causing upset.