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Help, my neighbour has damaged my property. What are my rights?

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
Buying and maintaining a property is expensive so if a water leak from your neighbour damages your home, what are your insurance and legal rights?

The average homeowner is estimated to spend £850 repairing damage caused by water leaks from a neighbouring property – that’s a collective £707m each year.

Rebecca Clapham, head of household products at Direct Line, explains what you need to know, and do, if your home is damaged by a water leak originating from your neighbour’s property.

Access to prevent serious damage to property

If you live in England or Wales and you need to enter a property causing a leak and the resident isn’t home, you should call the police as they can gain entry under the ‘Police and Criminal Evidence Act’ on the grounds of ‘preventing serious damage to property’.

In Scotland, council guidance recommends the police should be called if a householder can’t contact their neighbour. You shouldn’t attempt to enter another person’s property, even if you feel compelled to do so because water is leaking into your home.

Neighbour has no legal liability for damage

In the majority of cases, the neighbour will have no legal liability for the damage so you will have to manage the situation yourself or go through your insurer.

If the leak was unanticipated by the neighbour then they will not be held liable for the damage. The only occasions where the neighbour may be held responsible is where they have knowingly allowed a leak to occur or not taken proper care of the leak. An example of this would be if they were aware of a crack in their shower tray but continued to use it.

You should contact your insurer at the earliest possible opportunity to consider whether to claim and to ensure evidence is captured to help in a possible recovery.

Should you make a claim with your insurer?

The next step is to decide whether you should make a claim with your insurer. You should consider the excess that will be charged unless you can provide sufficient evidence that supports the claim that it was the neighbour who was at fault for causing the water damage.

It’s important to tell your insurer what happened in as much detail as possible so they can advise whether a cost recovery could be possible. However, any advice can’t be treated as a guarantee.

If the neighbour is proven to be responsible for the water damage, their liability is not based on a new for old basis of most insurance policies. Any repair or replacement amounts may therefore exclude discounts for wear and tear and age.

If you decide to claim through your own insurance, the chances are due to the difference in cover/responsibility the insurer will be unlikely to fully recover all costs.

But if a neighbour is proven to be responsible, it’s far easier to recover the cost via their insurers rather than get your neighbour to settle directly.

Damage caused by neighbour generally covered

In most insurance policies it’s unlikely you’ll see specific wording relating to damage caused by neighbours, although generally it will be covered under most insurance policies. An example of this would be ‘escape of water cover’ which would usually cover your property even if the damage was caused by your neighbour.

A useful tip would be to read through their policy and make sure there are no hidden restrictions which would mean their cover is not limited to just damage in their own homes.

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