The boundary wall separating my house and the one behind is crumbling

September 2013

Question

My 1960-built house shares a back boundary wall with a house which was erected in the 1930s. The wall has begun to crumble and I would like to know who is responsible for removing and replacing the wall. The other owner knows about this but lives abroad.

Answer

It is first necessary to establish the legal owner of the wall as this determines primary responsibility for repairs. Initial inspection may provide indicators. For example, the wall construction may be bonded or tied in with adjacent dividing walls in the rear garden(s) on the owner’s side. Support piers are also likely to be on the owner’s side. Given that your neighbour’s property was built first, the chances are that the wall is in their ownership.

The formal means of determining ownership is to inspect the deeds and deed maps for both properties in order to establish the position of the legal boundary. If the wall is constructed on your side of the legal boundary it is your responsibility, if it is on the legal boundary it is shared and if on your neighbour’s side of the legal boundary it is their responsibility.

This process may be somewhat complex as, apart from getting your neighbour’s cooperation in sourcing and inspecting their deeds, you may need professional assistance in interpreting the relative positions of the legal boundary and the wall. This process will be necessary if you cannot reach prior agreement on repairs.

If you can establish that the wall is in your neighbour’s ownership, have requested they carry out the necessary repairs to the wall and you find that after a “reasonable time” they have failed to do so, then you may consider applying to the courts under the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 for an order for the repairs to be carried out on the wall. The court may make such an order as it sees fit. You should note however that your neighbour may be entitled to claim contribution towards the repair works on the wall to reflect the benefit that you will gain to your property by virtue of said works being carried out.

An amicable approach and cooperation on repairs without risking potentially contentious ownership questions, if possible, is desirable.

Paddy Shine is a chartered geomatics surveyor and civil engineer