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Neighbours in electric dispute over wall


Written for Property Poser

A reader has asked the Property Poser panel to help resolve a boundary wall dispute between her and her neighbour.

She explains that a vibracrete wall, which is in perfect condition, separates their properties from each other. In addition, the reader has had a fully compliant electric fence installed above the wall.

Recently, the neighbour approached her with the idea of taking down the existing wall and replacing it with a brick version. His reason for doing so is that he plans to build carports and other structures up to and against the proposed wall.

The reader's concern is that she has spent a considerable amount of money affixing the electric fence to the existing wall. If she agrees to the new wall, she would want her neighbour to provide an undertaking that he would see to it that the electric fence is properly reattached and fully compliant with electrical regulations.

There were apparently a number of electrical "leaks" emanating from the neighbour's side, which the reader fixed at her cost. Her only other stipulation is that her side of the new wall be plastered and smoothed off, so that she would just have to see to the painting thereof.

The reader is worried that her neighbour would be able to proceed with breaking down the wall despite not giving him her consent. She would like to know what would happen to her electric fence if he refuses to restore the fitment.

According to Schalk van der Merwe from Rawson Properties in Somerset West, Cape Town, the adjoining neighbours would generally own a wall dividing their two properties in half shares.

"Unless it's clearly on one side or the other, the wall would thus be jointly owned and one neighbour can't simply do with it as he or she wishes."

Van der Merwe says this would typically extend to physical changes that affect the other neighbour, such as lowering, raising or removing the whole wall or parts of it.

"Painting is generally accepted as this falls under maintenance of the wall and only affects the beholder because each neighbour sees only his or her side."

In the current instance, if the wall is positioned on the boundary line between the properties, it is probably jointly owned and both neighbours should agree to any structural changes, says Van der Merwe.

If, however, the wall clearly sits on the property of either the reader or the neighbour, it may be wholly owned by that neighbour who would be able to do with it as he or she chooses, says Grant Hill of Miller Bosman Le Roux Attorneys in Somerset West.

"Considering the current situation, and assuming that the neighbour gets the necessary consent, an easy fix would be for him to just build his own brick wall next to the existing vibracrete wall."

Hill says he would then be able to do as he pleases and build against it.

"Depending on the factual situation, our reader may have remedies in criminal and civil law."

If the neighbour proceeds to merely demolish the jointly owned wall, the reader could consider laying a charge of malicious injury to property, says Hill.

"She could also take legal steps to claim damages from the neighbour."

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