Communal Garden Owner Prevails in High Court Party Wall Dispute

Party walls and the joint responsibilities that go with them are frequently a bone of contention between neighbours. That was certainly so in an instructive High Court case concerning the flank wall of a house that adjoined a communal garden.

The house had formerly been occupied by a tenant who obtained the freehold after exercising her enfranchisement rights under the Leasehold Reform Act 1967. It was common ground that the plans of the property indicated that she had acquired the flank wall in its entirety. However, an issue later arose between her successor in title, a property investment company, and the owner of the adjoining garden as to whether or not it was in fact a party wall in joint ownership. The issue was important due to the substantial cost of maintaining the wall.

The issue hinged on the correct interpretation of a clause in the original transfer of the freehold to the tenant. The clause stated that walls separating the property from adjoining properties were party walls. In upholding the company’s arguments, a judge found that the garden was one such adjoining property and that the flank wall was thus a party wall. That outcome, the judge found, accorded with the natural meaning of the words used and with commercial common sense.

In upholding the garden owner’s appeal against that ruling, however, the Court found that, on a consistent reading of the transfer as a whole, adjoining properties should be read as meaning adjoining buildings. The company’s interpretation did not accord with the plans and would require a conclusion that the tenant had not acquired all of the house to which she was entitled. It would also have the surprising consequence that, as proprietor of the exterior half of the wall, the garden owner would be entitled to block up the windows built into it. The flank wall was thus the property of the company alone and was not a party wall.

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