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When property disputes hit the courts

6 months ago
When property disputes hit the courts

A recent court case over perceived light pollution has inspired us to look at some court cases in recent years involving neighbours and property matters.  The costs can be eye-watering, showing that, in some cases, common understanding and reasonable behaviour from the outset can go a long way.  

Neighbour’s appeal to High Court over ‘nuisance’ light rejected.

A couple, the Pollards, installed a vintage-style carriage lantern to the rear of their home in Deal, Kent, much to the disquiet of their neighbours, the Hunts, whose garden backed onto the rear of theirs.  

On hearing the complaints of light pollution, the Pollards’ stated: “We don’t consider that the light causes a nuisance … we reserve the right to switch the light on or off at any time.”  

A magistrate’s court found ‘insufficient evidence’ on the nuisance claim to bring a judgment against the Pollards to remove the light.  Subsequently, a High Court ruling in January 2024 backed this legal judgement.  However, experts have questioned the route in taking the matter to the High Court after the insufficient evidence ruling in the first instance.   

The Hunts are expected to lose around £100,000 in legal and court fees, and the vintage-style carriage lantern remains in place.  

Neighbours on a modern display

At the start of 2023, The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the residents of a residential development built in the shadow of the Tate Gallery in Southbank but who were now, in essence, ‘on display’ through the Tate’s installation of a 360-degree public viewing platform around four years after the completion of their residential development.  

Lord Justice Leggat overturned both the High Court and Court of Appeal judgements and declared the residents must have felt ‘much like being on display in a zoo’.  It was also his rationale that the platform represented an ‘abnormal and unexpected’ use of its land by the Tate Gallery, which interfered with the ordinary use and enjoyment the residents should have of their apartments.  

Parking by a hair’s breadth in Harefield

In nearby Harefield, a six-year parking battle between two neighbours culminated in one neighbour (Soares) being ordered to pay out £60,000 by a Central London County Court to their neighbour (Kothari) in April 2023.   Soares had two designated parking spaces bisected by the one owned by Kothari. 

For years, they had made an informal arrangement that swapped two spaces, but Soares revoked this after claims and counterclaims of inconsiderate parking.   It was the manner and actions of Soares since the agreement ended that was the subject of the £60,000 award, and the Kotharis’ were also ordered to pay £2,530 in damages for using the right-side parking space after the swap deal had been revoked.  

Both sides were ordered to pay the other’s legal costs for the applicable legal victories, with total legal costs estimated above £100,000.    

Not agreeing through the looking-glass.

Again, just a few miles away, in Holland Park, in 2020, after an eight-year legal process, long leaseholders of 89 Holland Park successfully appealed against a High Court decision that they had unreasonably withheld consent to a single house development proposal on neighbouring land.   

Their freehold title bequeathed them a covenant restriction over what could be built on the land.  Subsequently, a ‘Glass Box’ proposal by award-winning architect Sophia Hicks after she had purchased the land at an auction did not meet the approval of their management company (to which each leaseholder was a shareholder).  

Hicks won the initial ruling at the High Court, claiming that permission was unreasonably withheld as the building would not structurally affect number 89. Still, the Court of Appeal sided with the management company over their ability to enact the covenant over their ‘aesthetic’ concerns.    

One neighbourly dispute leads to another….

This case then threw up a related case, in that one of the leaseholders (Dell) disputed their share of the £2 million legal costs in the above matter (the Court of Appeal ruled legal costs would be largely kept separate between Hicks and the management company).   

The Dells argued they had reclused themselves from legal action in 2014.  While the management company of 89 Holland Park had calculated each long leaseholder, under service charge liability, owed some £430,000.  

The matter ended up at the Court of Appeal again, and having won the previous judgement, the Dell’s came up victorious again, with Lady Justice Falk finding it ‘inherently unlikely’ that the terms of their lease forced the couple to share the ‘extraordinary costs’ of the litigation and that the lease contained provision for ‘general expenditure’ for the building’s upkeep but not for its action relating to neighbouring properties.

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