New Neighbour Removes Structural Wall, Causes Damage & Continues Work Without Consent

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    New Neighbour Removes Structural Wall, Causes Damage & Continues Work Without Consent

    I own a flat (Flat 4) in a white period building in North London. The building has 4 flats. We are all freeholders, and the landlord is a limited company. We don't have a management agent.

    In January 2020, the son and nephew of the owners of Flat 1 bought Flat 2. They said they wanted to do redecoration works, which no one objected to.

    The work was very loud. I continued to give them the benefit of the doubt. However, around April 2020, I started to notice significant cracks in my flat. Flat 3 had the same, and in fact, they had much larger cracks. We also noticed that the stairs in the building had inclined further, and the doors of both Flat 3 and Flat 4 no longer closed properly.
    We confronted Flat 2 about the works and were told that they had moved a structural wall. In an older building like ours, this is a huge issue. Flat 3 and I demanded that they submit an Application for Consent to the landlord/company disclosing all of the works and stop all works immediately.

    They submitted an Application for consent lacking detail and stating that the landlord/company had already unreasonably withheld and/or delayed giving consent given that they had told us about work (their works were quite different to the 'redecoration' claimed). The application had significant flaws, including:
    --> they proposed structural works including moving the structural wall (already done by the time application was submitted), a new window and replacing the walls of their conservatory. However, the structural calculations did not include the impact of the new window or the conservatory work at all.
    --> all of the structural work (including the structural wall movement) is outside of their demise, and the landlord has no reason to give consent for this
    --> all our leases contain an absolute covenant against the creation of a window
    --> no insurance approval for any of the works
    --> even the non-structural work is significant and includes moving their kitchen, adding another bathroom etc. No surveyors report or mention of how this might impact noise, water, sewage etc
    --> no approval from the local building control
    --> no confirmation that they would stop the works until the issue was resolved
    --> no confirmation that they would make good the damage caused
    --> very little undertaking of professional costs, despite inclusion in the lease that the leaseholder should cover this

    At the same time, we learned that the owner of Flat 1 (who is also the Company Secretary) had made both the son and her nephew Directors, without informing anyone else. Historically, it was 1 Director per flat. Now, they had 3 Directors representing Flat 1 & Flat 2 vs us that had 2 Directors representing Flat 3 and Flat 4 (more on this).

    We agreed that Flat 3 & Flat 4 would appoint legal counsel to consider the application for consent on behalf of the landlord. Flat 1 & Flat 2 would stay out of this process. This was agreed in writing via email to all freeholders. Once appointed, the lawyer wrote to Flat 2's lawyer pointing out the flaws in the application for consent and asking for more information on several fronts. Instead of engaging and clarifying the points, Flat 2's lawyer backtracked and said that the Company's counsel was not engaged appropriately. Furthermore, we then had several aggressive legal emails and letters back and forth over many months. Their position was that i) they had provided enough information; ii) they do not need to provide an undertaking of professional fees for the landlord to consider the application; iii) there has been an unreasonable delay in the landlord making a decision about the application; iv) no damage had been caused by Flat 2 (despite them agreeing to this previously), and v) re-asserting that the company counsel had not been appointed correctly and was therefore not recognised.

    Then, Flat 2 and their lawyers decided to get even more aggressive. Based on their previous assertions (above), Flat 2 and Flat 1 then called a board meeting (direct quote, removing names only) to "acknowledge and ratify in the board minutes that:
    1) the fact that our clients no longer require company consent, given its unreasonable withholding of such consent; but that
    2) notwithstanding the above, the company consents to the works set out in the Application; and
    3) in any event, to regularise the position, the company will within 14 days of the meeting taking place to enter into a licence substantially in the form tabled at the meeting."

    The landlord/company's big risk was that they could use the additional Director in the board meeting to ratify consent through the back-door. After a significant amount of advice and legal letters back to them, Flat 3 & I (Flat 4) managed to thwart this attempt by stating that we didn't recognise the 2 Directors appointed without process. Even if they had been appointed appropriately, Flat 2 should only have 1 Director (similar to the other flats), and consequently, the application for consent is rejected.

    Following the board meeting, the company counsel also wrote to Flat 2 to reject the application for consent on the basis that i) the Company is not under any obligation to consider an application for consent to alterations to the subject premises that has been made retrospectively; ii) the Company is not under any obligation to consider an application for alterations which would breach an absolute covenant of the Lease (the window); and iii) the Company is not under any obligation to consider an application for alterations for works that extend beyond the demised premises (the structural wall, conservatory, and window). There were simply too many significant flaws with the application.

    In the meantime, we also managed to get a company appointed structural engineer to inspect the calculations and do a visual inspection of Flat 4, Flat 3 and Flat 2. He confirmed that the most likely cause of the damage (cracks, doors etc.) in Flat 3 & Flat 4 was building movement caused by insufficient temporary works when Flat 2 moved the structural wall. He also felt that vibrations during the works may have exacerbated the damage and that it is also possible that the detailing of the interface between the new steel beams and the existing walls was inadequate therefore allowing some movement during installation. He also confirmed that whilst there were likely some cracks in Flat 3 & Flat 4, the majority of cracks looked relatively recent. However, he was not able to verify that the structural work in Flat 2 had been done correctly as "at the time of the site visit, all of the structural work had been boarded up, and consequently the new structural members were not visible. It was therefore not possible to verify that the correct beams had been installed and that they have been installed correctly."

    Since then, Flat 2 have somewhat submitted a revised application. In this, they have conceded that they no longer wish to create a new window. They have also recognised that the conservatory walls are beyond their demise and have claimed that since the conservatory is in disrepair, either the landlord undertakes works to fix it, or demise it to Flat 2. They have also stated that no further structural work is being done until the matter is resolved. However, the non-structural work, including the movement of the kitchen, new bathroom etc. is continuing. None of this they have consent for of course, which is required by the lease.
    The additional Director also remains a risk and continued issue.

    So far, it has cost Flat 3 & I (Flat 4) over £20k in legal and structural engineers fees. As might be clear from the above, it has been a long and painful process, and it is hard to see an end in sight. Injunction/court proceedings are an option, although a costly and lengthy process. The risk of doing nothing potentially means that they can claim that they received 'implied consent' or carry on with works on the basis that the company unreasonably withheld/delayed consent. Mediation is something I have looked at recently, but I'm not sure how effective that is. I have also reached out to our insurer (Aviva) to see why, given the damage, they have stayed silent so far.

    I am posting here for other ideas and thoughts to limit further costs and resolve the situation. At the end of the day, all we want is for the lease terms to be complied with and for the position to be regularised. To do that, we feel we need i) company counsel to be accepted as was agreed; ii) historical costs to be settled; iii) undertaking of future costs for counsel, structural engineer and surveyor (we haven't appointed a surveyor yet); iv) confirmation that no further works - structural or non-structural - will be carried out until this issue has been resolved once and for all.

    #2
    Get the local council's building inspector to report the removal of structural wall has made your building unsafe. ( You need to get the Local Council on your side ).

    Apply to local magistrate court for order on "flat owner" to restore wall in building to previous safe state and pay compensation to other flat owners.

    Comment


      #3
      Report the structural works to your local building control AND highlight the lack of party wall agreement to the other neighbours too .

      Muppets like this need to be educated - but many think they are above the law

      Comment


        #4
        Hi Gordon999,

        Thanks very much for your response.
        1) Makes sense. I will report it to Camden Building Control. I've found their number so will call them.
        2) The local magistrate action: is that an injunction? I've been told that this route is super expensive (£50k-£100k). Is that the case or is this different?

        Hi Neelix,

        Really appreciate your response too.
        1) Do you mean the adjoining building neighbours? The flats in the building are all aware that there is no party wall agreement. Our building is connected to an adjoining building so alerting them would make sense. Do we write a letter or how would we do that?

        Thanks very much!

        Comment


          #5
          Also, what about the insurer? Should I send them the pictures of the damage in Flat 3 & Flat 4 and also the structural engineer's report? How do we get them to get involved and take action?

          Comment


            #6
            Four flats - what do the articles say about obtaining majority decision for things like consent where there is stalemate?

            Not sure if party wall act covers removal of a structural wall but worth looking at to see if there is another infringement there too.

            As the owners have totally disregarded planning process and responsible behaviour, they need to face the financial consequences and reimburse you and your fellow neighbour for the damage they have caused to your properties including past structural engineers fees plus any future engineers fees that are required to confirm building's stability.

            Thankfully the building is still standing and the damage can ultimately be rectified!!
            .

            Comment

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