Architect Leslie Stannard and his wife occupy one of the flats I was on about behind the Albert Hall. They have been there for 30 years. Neighbours have come and gone. The more recent upstairs folk have, I think, taken to watching those make-over programmes, so popular on television. The first thing to go in the skip is that old Axminster carpet and its felt underlay. Then the Ikea lorry comes with the ceramic floor. The bathroom has to have tiles, so too the revamped kitchen. Marble is a must for the hall. Stone looks great in the dining area. Wood strip is striking with down-lighters in the lounge.
But that's not all. Where the stacking arrangements in flats once saw bedroom above bedroom, kitchen above kitchen, loo above loo, the make-over fiends cleverly move loos, put kitchens where once there was a bedroom. Creative stuff. Mr and Mrs Stannard in their bedroom nowadays have the pleasure of hearing the upstairs toilet macerator doing its thing.
That's not all. The neighbours, by simply using their upstairs flat and treading the magnificent carpetless floors are, in short, a damned nuisance.
It is just not on to hear the bathroom shenanigans upstairs when attempting to doze off in your bed a few feet below. It constitutes actionable nuisance
Mr Stannard sued the upstairs neighbours for nuisance, as Tim Elliott told us (30 August, page 38.) And if I had been the upstairs neighbour I would have counter-sued my interior makeover designer and the builder for bringing me into conflict with my downstairs neighbour. Indeed, the builder and the interior makeover wallah should sue the supplier of those noisy building materials, too. For Pete's sake, stop selling a problem, start selling your products with guidance and advice. It's no good having a shed full of gadgets, gizmos and fancy goods if they don't come with advice on how to install them. You will nowadays get sued for saying nothing.
Anyone walking along an upstairs marble hall, especially in high heels, makes a noise that is dreadful for the folks below. It is just not on to hear the bathroom shenanigans upstairs when attempting to doze off in your bed a few feet below. Mr Stannard told the court that the noise had led to a "terrific amount of stress". It was, he said, "more than I can bear".
There are some well-known principles in the law of private nuisance. The snag is that there is no absolute standard to apply. Cases hinge on the "unreasonable" interference with the use or enjoyment of your property. Beware the word "unreasonable". Courts have to decide on the circumstances of this person in this flat, under this lease, over these years, taking modern living into account, if the noisy neighbour was causing a nuisance in law using the test of reasonableness. Noise penetration from flat to flat is unacceptable and constitutes an actionable nuisance.
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator specialising in construction. You can write to him at 3 Paper Buildings, Temple, London EC4 7EY, or email him on email@example.com.