Earplugs no defence against noisy neighbours; blighted by a new development; minimising the tax pain on a rental; beauty and the barn
recently moved to a terrace house built in 1960. The party walls are solid brick and prevent noise travel very well, except for a loud whining hum that wakes me early in the morning even when I wear earplugs. It lasts from a few seconds to a few minutes and is like a hairdryer or the sound a television makes when a station isn’t transmitting. It fills the whole house at random times of the day and is impossible to ignore. My neighbours admit that it’s their plumbing but have had it investigated and no one can find the cause. Do you have any ideas?
David Snell writes: The obvious first suspect must be their boiler. If it hasn’t been replaced since the 1960s, it is almost certain to be making a noise, especially if you’re in a hard-water area. Other suspects might be the pipes themselves or the hotwater cylinder. Limescale can build up on the heat exchangers and render the boiler and cylinder extremely inefficient as well as noisy. So that’s the key to persuading your neighbours to change things. If you’re hearing the noise, they must be hearing it twice as badly, but perhaps they’ve become used to it; an appeal to their pockets might do the trick instead.
A new gas condensing boiler and a modern fully insulated hot-water cylinder should pay for themselves through lower fuel bills in about five years, not to mention the good it will do for the environment. Apart from that there’s very little you can do. Resorting to the public health department of your local authority must only be a last resort as it would make life with your neighbours very difficult, if not impossible.
David Snell is contributing editor to Homebuilding & Renovating magazine and author of Building Your Own Home, available at £25 plus p&p from 0870 155 7222
QI can’t sell my flat because of a new development 30 yards away. Building should have started in January 2008 but has been put on hold. It has already devalued my flat and the valuation officer has just reduced my council tax banding. He mentioned a “blight notice”. I called my council, which said it had never dealt with one before and that I would be liable for its expenses. How does such a notice work and can the council really charge me?
David Fleming writes: “Planning blight” arises where a property is adversely affected by a
Aneighbouring development. Sections 149 to 171 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 are designed to relieve hardship by making it possible for people in your position, subject to certain conditions, to serve a blight notice on the local authority, requiring it to buy their home. I am not aware of any provision entitling the authority to charge for its expenses. However, it may wish to challenge your right to serve such a notice and would do so by serving a counternotice. The matter would then have to be determined by the Lands Tribunal, which could order you to pay costs if you lose.
This is a complex area and I’d advise you to consult an architect or a surveyor experienced in blight issues. It may be possible to recover the costs of the fees if the local authority accepts its liability to purchase your property or should you succeed in any disputed claim before the tribunal.
David Fleming is head of property litigation at William Heath & Co.
QTo cover her rising mortgage repayments and living costs, my daughter has rented the second bedroom in her flat to a friend on an informal basis. Is this monthly income taxable and, if so, are there any elements that can be offset against tax? Does she have to disclose the arrangement to her mortgage provider?
Maggie Fleming writes: The rent is taxable. However, there is something called the Renta-Room scheme, introduced some years ago to encourage people to do just as your daughter is doing. As long as she is charging no more than £4,250 a year, no tax will be due.
If the gross rent is more, she has a choice: either to be taxed on the excess over that amount, without taking off any expenses; or to be taxed on the profits (rent less expenses) in the normal way for landlords. Say your daughter is receiving £5,000 from her friend — she could be taxed either on the £750 excess or on £5,000 less expenses. Obviously the second method would be preferable if her expenses exceeded £4,250.
Claimable expenses include a proportion of mortgage interest, insurance premiums, repairs, and heating and lighting costs. Exactly what proportion is based on the extent of the property used by the tenant. Your daughter can also claim 10 per cent of rental income as a wearand-tear allowance. Of course, if the gross rent is below £4,250, she does not need to think about expenses at all.
Your daughter’s lender does
Aneed to know that there is someone else in the property but they’re unlikely to object, although they may insist that your daughter and her friend draw up a formal agreement. She should also advise her insurer, which may increase her premiums; if she doesn’t, they could refuse to pay out on a claim.
Maggie Fleming is director of Isis Financial Planners and a member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation.
QI’m considering buying a two-bedroom barn conversion that won permission for full residential use three years ago with no conditions attached. When I spoke to planning officials about building a third bedroom with en-suite bathroom, they said their policy is to refuse extensions for former agricultural buildings. Is this a national or a local policy? Such a restriction will have a big effect on the property’s value.
John Winter writes: I know of no national policy of refusing extensions to barns already converted into dwellings. This is the sort of matter local authorities may decide for themselves.
The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings disapproves of barns being converted into houses. This makes planning officers cautious about giving consent. When they do, the drive is to try to retain as much of the original character as possible. Barns are often seen as beautiful artefacts and it is unlikely that an extension would do anything but detract from that. I can well understand your council’s view.
On the other hand, no policy is set in stone. You are at liberty to make an application for the extension and to appeal to the secretary of state if it is turned down. Your rejection letter will tell you how to go about it.
Barns tend to be larger than houses, so it is unusual for there to be a need for an extension. Can you not make a third bedroom within the existing building? That way you would do the least damage to its character and would probably not need planning permission at all. Many of life’s problems have a design solution. Alternatively, if you need three bedrooms, perhaps this is not the home for you.
John Winter runs his own architectural practice.