Doing Your Level Best: Housing Improvements and Neighbour Disputes

The number of neighbours caught up in legal disputes continues to climb, with some cases due to frictions arising from home improvements. Real Estate Disputes Partner Matthew Wayman explains how knowing where you stand - or build - can help avoid difficulties.

Moving house is no little undertaking.

Yet no matter how much we arrange our new properties as we like, there is another element - outside our four walls or fences - which determines whether it really feels like home or not.

Relations with our neighbours can either develop or undermine a sense of community.

Although it might not extend to regularly borrowed cups of sugar or chit-chats over the garden fence of dramatic cliché, cordiality is the least that we might reasonably expect.

However, when those who live next or near to us show no interest in how their behaviour impacts on others, trouble can and does ensue.

Myself and my colleagues at Bexley Beaumont know that when it does, such disputes can be difficult to resolve, costly, complex and destroy any potential for calm, whether you live in an apartment block or a des-res.

One high-profile example made the pages of The Times recently. It featured the former Manchester United goalkeeper Sergio Romero and his former next-door neighbours in Wilmslow, Cheshire, Laurence Stevens and his wife, Georgina Partakis-Stevens (

They claimed that trouble began when the previous owners of Romero's property - developer Baljit Sihan and his wife Lesley - demolished the house which had stood on the plot and replaced it with a three-level mansion.

The Sihans also commissioned extensive ground work to level their sloping back lawn. Yet although planning permission had been granted for the building, it was on the condition that the couple also secure approval for any landscaping project, something which they hadn't done.

By the time that the Romero's bought the Sihan's home in February 2018, the Stevens had been complaining about their own garden being flooded due to the improvements next-door for almost two years.

The case ended up before the High Court in Manchester, where Mr Sihan was described as "the epitome of a successful and hard-nosed property developer"( He was, said Judge Stephen Davies, "not a dishonest witness, but he was an unreliable one", who refused to accept that there would be any adverse consequences of his improvement work.

Furthermore, the judge remarked, Mr Sihan not only viewed Mrs Partakis-Stevens as "an interfering nuisance of a neighbour" but failed to tell Mr Romero about the ongoing row when he were in the process of buying the mansion.

The second of those two, it was decided, created an "irresistible inference that the neighbour dispute misrepresentation was made fraudulently".

As a result of a subsequent hearing last month (, the Sihans were ordered to pay almost £700,000 in legal costs to both the Stevenses and Romero, and a further £59,500 in damages to the Stevenses as well as footing the £70,000 bill for remedial work at both properties to deal with the flooding.

Whilst not every property dispute involves flooding, a Premier League footballer and multi-million pound homes, the latest figures published by the Ministry of Justice show that they are becoming more frequent - up almost 10 per cent in the last decade (

Arguments prompted by flooding or water run-off are not unique. Anyone involved in a similar dispute should bear certain things in mind.

Firstly, as a general rule, a landowner has no legal responsibility for damage caused by water escaping naturally from his land, in the course of the any ordinary and proper use of that land.

Therefore - and to reiterate - when someone’s property suffers flooding from water which pours off a neighbour’s land which is at a higher level, the affected person cannot bring a claim against his neighbour for damages.

Of course, that is provided that the owner of the higher land has not accumulated water there unnaturally or been guilty either of misuse of his land or negligence or caused water to flow onto the lower land in a more concentrated form.

Also, just as the owner of the land at the lower level cannot complain about the natural flow through the soil onto his land from the higher level, the owner of the lower land is not obliged to take the water.

He or she can erect barriers to prevent the water flowing onto his land, even if this causes damage to the higher land.

They are also not liable for damage which may ensure as long as they act with reasonable care and skill, and do no more than he needs to protect their land.

What I've just explained underlines some of the central points of the Romero case; namely, that individuals looking to do improvement work at their home need to seek expert guidance in advance not only so that it suits them from an aesthetic point of view but will not have a negative impact on others living or working nearby.

People granted planning permission must also ensure that they satisfy the terms of that approval.

As the Sihans have discovered quite literally to their cost, failing to do so can be a complex and very costly business.

To discuss any of the above further, please feel free to contact Matthew Wayman:  |  07779 593411