In a bitter illustration of the grave financial consequences that can arise from a failure to compromise, neighbouring homeowners who engaged in costly legal warfare over just nine inches of shed space were each left facing substantial legal costs.
The dispute centred on two suburban streets in North London which ran parallel to each other and, in a classic suburban layout, had adjoining strip gardens at the rear. When the owners of one house (house A) erected a breeze block shed at the end of their plot, the scene was set for epic legal conflict.
The new outbuilding was so close to the shed at the end of the garden of another house (house B) that part of their roofs were touching. The owners of house B accused their neighbours of trespassing on their territory and litigation ensued after all attempts at community-based mediation came to nothing.
Both sides deployed high-powered legal teams and property experts to support their cases on the ‘crucial question’ of who had owned a ‘historic brick wall’ that had once stood between the two back gardens. Following a county court hearing, the owners of house A were ordered to remove the north wall of their shed on the basis that it had been built on their neighbours’ land. That would have reduced the depth of the shed by 225 millimetres, or about nine inches.
The owners of house A appealed and, in upholding their case in part, the Court of Appeal lamented that, if they had consulted their neighbours under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, or built the shed nine inches further back from the boundary, the disastrous legal conflict could have been avoided.
The Court found that the extent of the trespass was ‘very modest’ and lifted the demolition order, instead directing the owners of house A to pay their neighbours £300 in damages. None of the parties had succeeded on their case as pleaded and they were therefore left to bear their own legal costs.