‘Am I responsible if my neighbour’s extension floods?’

Dear Property Doctors

We own a converted watermill, and the water wheel is served by a 250m mill race [a current of water]. There are a number of cottages whose gardens back onto it.

Recently, due to some discussions with the local councils and the Environment Agency, it is looking likely that we in fact may own the whole of the mill race (which was manmade about 250 years ago for the watermill) and therefore have rights and duties over the whole course of it.

A bit of responsibility is not in itself a problem, but we are aware that a neighbour has built a garden room extension that now juts out over the mill race.

In this circumstance I’m not sure if we have any liability if the garden room is damaged by the occasional flood conditions or if the neighbour is trespassing on my property. I also don’t know whether I need to pursue any action to get confirmation (if we do own the mill race) that the neighbour recognises that having his extension there doesn’t mean that he owns the water or land beneath the extension.

It’s no big deal to me about him having the extension but I don’t want this become an issue in the future due to damage, or when one or both of the properties are sold.

CT, by email

This is a highly complex and technical issue on which I would hesitate to advise without knowing all the facts.  

I think the practical advice is to check the position with your own insurance company. You will need to be certain that if there is any flooding of your neighbour’s property, then any claim for damage would be covered by your insurance.  

Most standard buildings insurance policies do cover third party liabilities of this sort but clearly the insurance company need to be told of the full situation otherwise they may avoid liability on the grounds of non-disclosure if a claim is made later.

David Fleming is the head of property litigation at William Heath & Co solicitors (williamheath.co.uk)

Every week, The Telegraph’s Property Doctors bring expertise on renovations and DIY, planning, buying and selling, lettings, legal issues and taxes. Send your questions to propertydoctors@telegraph.co.uk

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