10 ways your home could be breaking the law – without you even knowing it

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If you’ve worked on improving your home or garden, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are various ways in which you could be unknowingly falling foul of the law.

From putting up a fence to vacuuming out of hours, here are 10 ways your home could be breaking the law without you knowing.

Fences and walls

If you want to put up a new fence, gate or garden wall which is more than two metres in height you will need planning permission. If the fence or wall borders or adjoins a public highway used for vehicles you may need planning permission if it’s higher than one metre.

You will also need to seek permission if your property is a listed building, or if the proposed fence forms a boundary with a neighbour’s listed building.

It is also wise to check the property deeds to ensure you aren’t breaching any existing agreement between your property and those neighbouring it, or check the Land Registry for general boundary guidelines.

Security lighting

Be mindful of your neighbours before putting up any bright security lighting, as it can constitute light pollution or a nuisance if it shines directly into their property.

So make sure beams are not directed at anyone’s windows, and security lights fitted with passive infra-red detectors (PIRs) or timing devices should be set so that they’re not triggered by traffic or pedestrians passing outside your property.

Although lighting isn’t subject to planning controls, a neighbour could take you to court if it becomes a nuisance.

Garden sheds

Installing a garden shed, log cabin or summerhouse to your garden requires certain planning criteria to be met, with the building required to have a height no more than 2.5 metres from existing ground level, a maximum overall height of 4 metres with a dual-pitched roof, or 3 metres for any other roof.

In terms of space, the ground area covered by the outbuilding and any other buildings within the boundary of the property (excluding the original house) should not be more than half the total area of the property.

WiFi

Using a neighbour’s unsecured WiFi connection without their knowledge, known as ‘piggybacking’, can lead to a criminal charge under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 / the Communications Act 2003.

CCTV cameras

If you have CCTV cameras around your home, ensure they do not point at your neighbour’s land.

This could, in some cases, breach privacy laws under the Human Rights Act and also lead to allegations of harassment.

Conservatories

Planning permission isn’t required for building a single storey conservatory, although the extension should not exceed a height of four metres, or a length of four metres in a detached home and three metres in a semi-detached or terraced home.

For a two-storey extension, planning permission is required and your conservatory should not be built above the existing roof of your property, be in excess of 3 metres in length and be no closer than 7 metres to the property boundary.

Trees and hedges

Cutting back tree branches into your neighbour’s property is illegal, so be sure to only cut back foliage to the extent that they overhang your land. If the tree has a preservation order, you cannot cut any of the branches. And if you want to plant a hedge in your garden, while you don’t normally require planning permission to do so, it is wise to check with the local planning authority first as you will be responsible for maintaining it, so that is doesn’t cause a nuisance to others.

Hot tubs

If you’re lucky enough to have your own outdoor hot tub, you should be mindful that heating the tub could actually constitute a nuisance due to noise. If you’re installing a hot tub in an outbuilding, then the same rules for outbuildings (above) will apply.

Noisy housework and DIY

It is recommended by environmental health officers that noisy household tasks, including vacuuming and DIY, should only take place between 8am and 6pm on weekdays, between 8am and 1pm on Saturdays, and never on a Sunday. If breached, you could risk causing a noise nuisance – this isn’t just limited to raucous late night parties.

Washing lines

Should you intend to attach a washing line, garden hose or even hanging baskets to your neighbour’s wall or fence, be sure to obtain their consent before doing so.

• Planning laws can vary slightly from one area to the next, so be sure to find out more information from your local authority