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Legal Deadlines and the Dire Consequences of Missing Them

The law is replete with strict time limits and failing to meet them can have disastrous consequences. That was certainly so in one case in which a homeowner sought more than £800,000 in compensation from his neighbour, but came away with less than nothing after lodging an appeal one or two days too late.

houseThe homeowner claimed that work carried out by his neighbour on a basement extension over a two-year period had caused extensive damage to his property. The noise and disruption of the work was alleged to have been so severe that he and his family had been forced to move to alternative accommodation for four months.

However, an independent surveyor who was appointed to resolve the dispute under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 awarded the homeowner just £55,001. That was on the basis that it had not been necessary for him to move out and that the works had caused only comparatively minor damage to his property.

By virtue of the Act, the homeowner had 14 days in which to launch a challenge to the surveyor’s award. A judge found that he had done so just before expiry of that deadline and rejected his neighbour’s arguments that his appeal had been lodged out of time and should therefore not be permitted to proceed.

In upholding the neighbour’s challenge to that ruling, the Court of Appeal found that, on a true interpretation of the Act, the homeowner had been validly served with the award by email and that time had started to run when it landed in his inbox. In those circumstances, he had missed the deadline by one or two days. The homeowner was ordered to pay the legal costs of the proceedings – which substantially exceeded the amount of the award.