Begin with beer. Are you old enough to remember Double Diamond and Watney’s Red Barrel? These beers were once pushed down throats by mass advertising campaigns. Television, newspapers and hoardings yelled loud and long about this fizzy booze, which for my money was the worst thing I could spend five bob on.
An organisation called CAMRA then sprang up. It was, and still is, the Campaign for Real Ale. Soon, CAMRA had us back on track. Real ales reappeared; can you beat Speckled Hen or Wadsworth 6X? No, damn it, you can’t. But, horror of horror, sales are beginning to fall away. I put it down to squeaky floorboards. Put brutally, I blame you housebuilders for the falling sales of real ale.
A word in your ear, if I may. Do check the design specification for the first-floor of your new house. In a very recent court case, Mr and Mrs Welsh sued MacBryde Homes. Their three-bed detached house was built in 1994. The Welshes and their two kids moved in in March. They immediately had a problem. It became apparent as soon as they popped upstairs. The landing floor creaked when walked on it. So did the bedroom floors. They even said the boards deflected.
I don’t know how seriously MacBryde took all this. I mean, how many of us live in houses with non-squeaky first-floor floors or stairs? Come with me from the bedroom in my house along the landing to the loo and listen as you go. Of course there are squeaks. The trouble is that Mr and Mrs Welsh got fed up with their squeaking boards and asked MacBryde to put it right. MacBryde presumably said no. So, the Welsh folk sued. They said that the floor was defective through unstressed timber joists that caused excessive deflection and creaking to a level between 55 and 65 dB. That caused the whole family severe sleep disturbance and lack of enjoyment of their new home, they said. Their litigation was founded on breach of contract.
MacBryde agreed the first floor ought to be rebuilt. But that was as far as it would go. Not enough, said the Welsh family
By the time the matter meandered its way to court, they had been in the noisy house for four years and eight months. Come the day of the trial, MacBryde accepted liability to put right the squeaks. It agreed the entire first floor ought to be rebuilt. But that was as far as it would go. Not enough, said the Welsh family. They had suffered all those four years and eight months. And they would suffer some more by decanting to a hotel while the work was done, would suffer damage to carpets and would have to pay for furniture storage. Simply putting right the floor wasn’t enough, so they pressed on with the trial. They wanted money for personal suffering.
The judge entirely agreed with the Welshes. Not only was it decided that all the hotel and removal and storage be paid, but that there would be compensation for “distress and inconvenience”. There would be an award of £4750 each for Mr and Mrs Welsh and the two children, totalling £19 000. Add to that the cost of accommodation on a short-term let and storage, and the final award was just over £30 000 against MacBryde.
Don’t run off with the idea that this judgment is unusual. The award of damages for distress and inconvenience arising out of domestic building works, whether for new houses or extensions to existing, is ordinary. Usually they go for trial at the local county court and miss the glare of publicity. This case, though, is a reminder to builders and designers of homes to be squeaky clean.
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator specialising in construction.