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Is it likely that the renovation work we are doing has caused structural damage to a neighbours property?


jade59
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In October 2020 we brought a 1930s semi-detatched house that needed work. When we brought it, it was full of cracks, mostly hidden underneath wallpaper, plaster crumbling down when wallpaper was removed etc. Most cracks were just from the old plaster, but there were a few bigger ones - including one that you can also see from the outside. When we took up the floor, it had a huge crackin the middle which made the floor higher in the middle.

 

Anyway, since then we have been doing a lot of renovation work. Taken down a chimney and rebuilding an internal wall, putting in steel for structure (just once), then also battening out the ceiling and walls in the bathroom and kitchen. Last week, we also installed our kitchen (which backs onto the neighbours property) so there was a bit of drilling into that joint wall, but nothing more serious that just hanging up a frame.

 

The neighbour at the weekend came round and asked us to take a look at her property - she found a couple of small cracks in her spare room (on the first floor, which joins onto our house) and is accusing us of it being our fault from the work we're doing and I guess, subsequent vibrations from the drilling. We have done nothing yet in the room opposite her spare room, but it is the same side of the house as the kitchen we just installed. She's also concerned that we're causing structural damage from all the renovations, and said that prior to us moving in, she had a survey done and the house was all fine.

 

My question is, could what we be doing actual cause structural damage? The most we're really doing is drilling into the walls and ceilings to put up wood or plasterboard, and I think it probably sounds worse to her than it actually is. But I'm also now concerned that she could accuse us of doing something that is damaging to her house, when we think it's likely just because the houses are old and she's maybe now more aware of what's going on. Our house was in such bad shape it seems unlikely hers wasn't

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What evidence will she have?

a crack in an old property?

will she have evidence that this wasn’t there before you started?

millions of semi detached houses are renovated.

 

assuming the steel work was installed correctly of course I would just be nice and humour the neighbour.

 

 

 

 

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1 minute ago, TonyT said:

What evidence will she have?

a crack in an old property?

will she have evidence that this wasn’t there before you started?

millions of semi detached houses are renovated.

 

assuming the steel work was installed correctly of course I would just be nice and humour the neighbour.

 

 

 

 

 

Yes basically, just a crack, that i think from what my boyfriend said, looked mostly just cosmetic. She did have a survey done before we moved in and apparently there were no issues, but we have been renovating for a year now and no issues prior to this. She's quite elderly and I believe was concerned we are making structural issues that may devalue her house. 

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Why would she have a survey done ..??? Sounds odd … I’d smile and say that you’ve done nothing near that wall and carry on. 
 

And buy her some flowers and say sorry for the inconvenience of skips / dust / etc and when you’re finished she can come round for tea and see what you’ve been up to….

 

In reality, if yours was a knackered semi that you have improved then it’s likely you’ve increased her property value not decreased it. 

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  • 1 month later...

The only thing i would add is that normally between 1930's semi's you have a single 9" party wall between the properties. If you have managed to take out a chimney on the party wall, and have managed to not crack the plaster on the other side, then you have done very, very well. I have never managed to do it. Even taking the chimney out by hand. Cutting a steel into a 1930's semi party wall is also very hard to do without causing damage on the other side. Taking out a chimney requires Building control. As does taking out a wall and fitting a steel. (Did you have building control ? ) Obviously, without knowing the layout of your house, what walls you have removed etc, it's hard to tell if you may have cause damage to your neighbours property. It is however possible that you have......Get your structural engineer to go round to your neighbours, and take a look. He or she will soon tell you if any damage may have been caused by you. Good luck with all the work.

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I would call her bluff, say you have had it inspected and nothing you have done can have caused those cracks. If youre house was so bad then frankly under her wallpaper is likely to be nearly as bad. As  said above be nice, but firm, some neighbours just love to blame anyone working any where near their home and have no idea about the work you are doing.

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Not very clear from the post (or maybe it's just too early in the week for me).

 

Have you been doing works to the shared party wall - i.e have you removed a chimney breast from the wall joining your house to the neighbours? Same with regards to installing steels?

If so, this should have been covered by a Party Wall agreement and if it hasn't, then you need to be very careful as your neighbour has some rights.


What I will say having done a averagely-constructed 1930's house is that it is entirely possible for (superficial) cracks to appear from even relatively "low impact" work -e.g. percussion removing plaster in one room or chiseling out socket boxes created some cracks at joins e.g. ceiling to wall in the adjacent room. Removing or changing structural elements such as lintels/beams is even more likely to result in a crack appearing.

 

On the flip side, the cracks can appear on their own with nothing related to the building work, so as per some of the above suggestions, don't offer anything in case she's chancing it, but equally, I wouldn't so readily dismiss any possibility of your works having had some impact. And if you've not followed the Party Wall act, then tread very lightly.

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Go easy and double check what everyone has suggested. I would suspect a pair of old semis could act like a single house in movement terms. We repaired a porch in our old last house (Victorian with shallow foundations) and cracks appeared all over, in seemingly unrelated places over the next few months. It settled eventually, but it was a bit stressful. 

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