Written for Property Poser

The question posed to our Property Poser panel this week relates to repairs to be done to a boundary wall between two properties.

The wall in question is apparently becoming brittle and breaking up in parts. Our reader wants to know whether she can hold her neighbour responsible for a portion of the costs.

Justin Strömbeck from Du Toit Strömbeck Attorneys in Port Elizabeth says the “law of neighbours” helps to determine where each person’s rights end and those of the neighbour start.

“In the absence of proof that a boundary wall, fence or hedge is entirely on one of two properties situated next to each other, it is presumed to be half on one property and half on the other.”

Strömbeck says if such a wall is on only one of the properties, it will be the owner of that property’s full responsibility to maintain and fix it. “If easily accessible, the boundary pegs may provide a quick answer as to where responsibility for the wall lies.”

Based on the assumption that the wall (in the reader’s case) is owned by both neighbours, it would mean that both owners are obliged to contribute to its maintenance and repair, according to Strömbeck.

“An owner can refuse to contribute to the cost of an unreasonably expensive new wall and is under no obligation to replace a boundary wall, which was unreasonably expensive when originally erected, with a similar structure.”

Charlotte Vermaak from Chas Everitt in PE says if the wall sits wholly on the property of one party, such owner will be responsible for its repair. “In that instance, the owner will also have the choice of the nature and type of the repairs.”

The above scenario, says Vermaak, has in the past led to the somewhat comical and unnecessary situation where both neighbours erect walls adjacent to each other in order to ensure that they have ultimate say over what happens with “their” wall.

“As each owner benefits from the boundary wall, it has become commonplace for neighbours to take care of the side facing their property. This usually amounts to minor repairs and possibly painting from time to time.”

Vermaak says on the premise of the wall being a shared responsibility, it is best to come to an agreement with one’s neighbour on the amount to be spent on its repair. “Remember the adage ‘good fences make good neighbours’.”

South African law provides legislation in the form of the Fencing Act 31 of 1963 (as amended), which regulates the conduct and contributions of farming neighbours, according to Vermaak.

“While the act makes provision for a number of different circumstances, a neighbour who has benefited from a fence must contribute to the cost thereof and pro rata to its repair when required.”

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