Legal advice: Collapsing walls

Related tags Tort Law

For pubs, which have often been around for hundreds of years, this is a bigger issue than for many modern buildings.So it is important you are aware...

For pubs, which have often been around for hundreds of years, this is a bigger issue than for many modern buildings.

So it is important you are aware of the liabilities arising and how to deal with the problem if such a circumstance occurs on or near your property. The following article aims to give an introduction to your potential responsibilities.Whose responsibility is it?

If the wall is a boundary wall, or separates buildings belonging to different owners, you may well need to instruct a surveyor to consider whether or not the wall is a party wall, and how to take matters forward if it this is the case.

If the wall is not a party wall, you can look to your deeds to see if there is an express obligation on either you or your neighbours to maintain, repair, renew or replace it.

And note that if the wall is not a party wall but rests entirely on the land you occupy, you should look at your lease to determine the position between you and your landlord.

You may need to reconsider whether or not the wall falls within the range of your tenancy before even thinking about whether or not it is your responsibility to repair and maintain the structure of the building itself, or external structures.

What liabilities can arise from a collapsing wall?

As an occupier of premises, the starting position is that under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 (OLA) you owe a "common duty of care" to visitors to take reasonable care to ensure that they are safe. Further, you must be prepared for children to be less careful than adults on your premises. You can take steps to try and protect yourself from liability under the OLA by, for example, erecting signs to warn people about the situation, and/or erecting barriers or temporary fencing to keep people away from a dangerous wall.

As well as the OLA, if damage is suffered by anyone as a consequence of a collapsing wall you could be sued under the more general law of negligence - for failing to do what a reasonable person would do in repairing and making the wall safe.

Further, there is a raft of health and safety legislation under which you owe specific duties to both your employees and the world at large, to ensure that people are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.

If a wall or parts of it fall from one property onto another as a consequence of its disrepair, and damage occurs, then the person who permitted the wall to fall into disrepair may - in addition to the obligations set out above - be liable under the 'tort' (a civil wrong) of nuisance. Nuisance, generally, is a condition or activity which unduly interferes with the use or enjoyment of a person's land.

But this is not all. If the local authority hears of a dangerous structure, its surveyor may serve a dangerous structure notice on the responsible person, requiring them to take steps to either make the wall safe, or demolish it entirely.

If the notice is not complied with, then the responsible person could find themselves in a magistrates court facing criminal charges. If the dangerous wall is not on your property but is in a dangerous condition, then you may wish to contact your local authority to inform it of the situation and to put some pressure on someone to get the matter sorted out.

Other considerations - access and abatement

If the collapsing wall is on someone else's property or you need to access another's property to effect repairs to a wall on your own property, then you may want to contact your solicitor to consider applying to the court for an Access Order under the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992. If you don't have a right of access or the owner/occupier's permission, but you go onto their land anyway, then you are trespassing.

If, however, a nuisance is being committed, it is a general rule of law that the person suffering from the nuisance can enter his neighbour's land to put an end to the problem. The court, however, does not favour people taking such matters into their own hands. If you do so, beware, as you could also find yourself on the receiving end of an injunction and/or an action for damages.


Kimbells is well versed in the legal issues facing the drinks, hospitality and leisure industry, having specialised for many years in advising companies in this sector. Legal updates and commentary on topical industry issues can be found at their website (right column). Key contacts (pictured, left to right) are) Leo Skinner, Neil Lyon and Peter Holden.

Related topics Property law

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