Your home is your castle and it is quite proper to seek to protect what is normally the largest investment you will ever make.
Drought is a Root Cause of Subsidence
Partner & Head of Professional Negligence
Recent newspaper reports have highlighted that 2017 could experience a serious drought caused by a hot dry summer and the driest winter in 20 years. When the ground dries out, it is increasingly prone to movement and shrinkage. According the British Geological Survey (BGS) shrinking and swelling of the ground (often reported as subsidence) is one of the most damaging geohazards in Britain today. This shrink swell situation is often exacerbated by trees and shrubs which suck up what little moisture is left in the ground in a bid to stay alive.
What Can I Do To Protect My Home from Subsidence?
Home owners can mitigate the risk themselves by maintaining the trees and shrubs on their property at levels where their “zone of influence” does not extend to under the foundations of their property. Care must be taken that any trees to be treated are not covered by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) as this could possibly lead to a breach of the TPO and land you the homeowner legally liable. Read our article Tree Preservation Orders: The Facts for more information about Tree Preservation Orders and how to deal with them.
However, trees are living organisms and they will sometimes extend their roots beyond the recognised zone in order to source moisture from further afield. Each species of tree has a different recorded zone of influence to the point where a copse containing an Oak, a Willow and an Ash for example will have roots extending for different distances and treatment will need to tailored accordingly.
How Do I Identify Subsidence?
Tell-tale signs of subsidence are:
- windows and doors sticking on opening and closing
- diagonal cracking to walls extending from ground level towards the corners of windows or doors
- cracks which are mirrored inside and out and flow along the line of cement between bricks
If you spot any of these signs you should contact your buildings insurance company immediately.
What Will My Insurance Company Do?
Your insurance company will appoint a loss adjuster to inspect your property and seek to identify the cause of the problem. It may also be necessary to appoint an arborist, soil engineers and a structural engineer if the tree belongs to a third party which will need convincing to remove the cause.
If the tree belongs to you then, subject to any TPO protection, it should be more easily removed although it will also be necessary to assess whether the tree pre-dates the property in which case “heave” where the soil recovers too much and pushes the property higher than it was originally designed for should be considered. In these cases the tree is usually removed in stages to allow recovery of the moisture levels in manageable stages. Often a property will be monitored before and after removal to ensure that the cause has been remove an the property stabilised before repairs are undertaken so these claims can last for months – the sooner the claim is reported the earlier the remedy can be in place.
If the cause is caught early then repairs can be as simple as raking out and replacing the cement but, in more severe cases, the property may have to be underpinned which involves the owners normally having to vacate the property for the duration of the works.
In cases where the cause of the damage is vegetation belonging to a third party, it may be possible to recover the costs of any repairs from that party. Any subsidence claim will be subject to a £1,000 excess if it is the first occurrence. This is a significant sum for any householder to find and therefore, if this sum and subsequent repairs costs can be recovered, you should appoint Solicitors to deal with the claim.
At MW our specialist Solicitors have many years experience acting for homeowners and their insurers in recovering significant sums from Councils, Housing Associations and other public bodies and private individuals.
If you have insurance, your insurer will cover the costs of an insured peril subject to your policy coverage and adherence to the terms of the contract by the policyholder. They will then seek to recover the costs of those repairs under its right to step into the shoes of the insured. This removes undue and unnecessary stress from the insured who has already experienced the worry of seeing their property damaged. At this point MW Solicitors can be instructed by your insurer if you require.
What If I Do Not Have Valid Buildings Insurance?
Where there is no valid insurance, you should look to instruct a Solicitor as soon as possible in order to avoid the potentially costly repairs falling on you personally.
If we can assist we will approach the liable third party for a contribution towards the repair costs at the earliest opportunity. In the case of private individual owners of the problem tree, it is vitally important that they are placed on notice of the damage as soon as possible. If they remain unaware of the cause under their control, it is more difficult to convince a Court that they failed to act in a reasonable manner to abate the nuisance.
Subsidence Claims Require Specialist Solicitors
Claims involving subsidence are always a complex combination of Science and the Law. Taking the correct approach to preparing evidence before the claim is presented will pay dividends and you should always instruct a specialist Solicitor who has experience with the claims process and is capable of dealing with insurers, experts and other third parties.
We Can Help
At MW Solicitors our mission is "To make quality legal services accessible to everyone" including homeowners who are worried that their home is suffering or might be at risk from subsidence. If you believe that your property is suffering subsidence damage, it is important to act quickly.
We can help homeowners whose property is damaged through the actions of a third party. We will explore every legal avenue and our experts in MW’s are not just experienced in the law regarding these matters, but also in the underlying geological and biological causes.
We can advise if you are entitled to bring a claim for the recovery of your insurance excess and any repairs costs and we will act on behalf of your insurer should you wish to instruct a local firm. We can assist you with any discussions and negotiations with third parties in order to resolve any dispute. We are keen advocates of mediation and other forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and we will do all we can to resolve your dispute in a sensitive and cost effective way.