Lawlink – What can I do about damage caused to my property by debris from neighbours?

red and black outdoor grill
Stock photo: Mick Haupt/Unsplash.

Q: We live in a semi-rural area. On one side of us there is a large estate, single homes on the other. During the recent storm, we made sure that our bins and outdoor items were well tied down. Unfortunately, it would appear that some of our neighbours were not so considerate. A large amount of debris was blown into our garden, including some wooden pallets and a good deal of rubbish. One of our windows was broken and substantial damage was done to our greenhouse. Is there anything we can do?

Dear Reader,

Many thanks for your query. The first thing that you should do is to contact your own insurers. Generally speaking, most home insurance policies will cover damage due to wind, both damage the wind does directly to your home (such as missing roof tiles and the like) as well as damage caused by foreign objects blowing into your property.

That said, every insurance policy is different, and you should check with your insurers or your broker to make sure that your policy covers such events. If your policy does not cover such events, or if the excess on your policy is so high as to make it unreasonable to make a claim, you might have a claim in ‘nuisance’.

A nuisance occurs where the rights of a property owner are unreasonably interfered with while they are in occupation of their own lands. An example of this would be the release of water from someone else’s lands to your own land. If someone allows items to accumulate on their land (for example pallets and rubbish) and it is reasonable that same would cause damage if allowed to escape, then they are generally liable for any damage thereby occasioned.

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However, it might be difficult for you to prove from whose property the items originated. There is also a general rule that if the items were allowed to escape due to an ‘act of god’ then no liability can attach. Such an ‘act of god’ would not just be an unusual occurrence, it must be something beyond human foresight.

Given that there have been two heavy storms so far this year, it is likely that the recent storm – severe and all as it may have been – would be classed as being an ‘act of god’.

You should do your best to document the damage done to the property, by taking photographs and keeping good records. In the event that your own insurers do not assist you, you should discuss the matter with your solicitor.