London couple ordered to tear down £80,000 extension and pay £200,000 legal bill in fight with neighbours

Shabaz Ashraf and wife Shakira  (Champion News)
Shabaz Ashraf and wife Shakira (Champion News)

A couple who built on their neighbours’ garden, then told them “go to court” have been ordered to demolish their £80,000 extension and handed £200,000 in legal bills.

Shabaz Ashraf, 45, and his wife Shakira, 40, were told by a judge to tear apart the extension to their £700,000 London home, because it was built just over two inches too close to their neighbours’ house.

The couple estimate they spent £80,000 ripping down a 1970s extension at the back of their house in Ridgeway Gardens, Redbridge, and replacing it with a modern one, only to have the couple next door - former friends Avtar Dhinjan and wife Balvinder - complain that it was millimetres over the boundary between their properties.

Mr and Mrs Dhinjan, backed by their son Gurpreet, said the new extension strayed 68mm or 2.68 inches onto their land with an overhang at roof level 98mm or 3.86 inches the wrong side of the line.

Mr Dhinjan, a former Ford car plant worker, said his neighbours “intended to annoy” him and his family by building over the boundary between their homes in 2019.

While admitting the “encroachment” over their border is very small, the Dhinjans’ complained their neighbours’ extension is making their own house damp and “mouldy” because it is so close to their wall that it leaves no room for air circulation outside.

They sued at Central London County Court, demanding an injunction forcing the Ashrafs to demolish the encroaching wall.

Now Judge Richard Roberts has granted them victory, slamming their “high-handed” neighbours for “trespassing” and ordering them to knock down the offending wall and move it back.

Mr and Mrs Ashraf had defended the case, saying they built the new extension on the footprint of the 1970s one and that any encroachment must have already been going on for over 40 years, giving them squatters’ rights.

But Rachel Coyle, for the Dhinjans, told the judge that the 2019 rebuild went beyond the footprint of the old extension and as a result “flush” against the outer wall of their house.

“There was an encroachment which, while de minims in valuation terms, causes significant injury to the land belonging to the claimants,” argued their barrister.

“The defendants’ continued course of conduct intended to annoy.

“Only removal and building it where it should be will prevent mould and damp, failing which the claimants’ extension will become virtually uninhabitable.

“The injury is not one that can be compensated in money,” she said.

Giving his ruling, the judge said: “One of the sad features of the case is that before the parties began building new extensions to the rear of their property, they lived in harmony and were on good terms.

“The defendants say they built the wall in exactly the same position as the previous wall, which was in position for 41 years. I find that that is, to the defendants’ knowledge, wholly untrue.

“The joint expert surveyor concluded in his report there was an encroachment of 68mm.

“I can see from the pictures that the breeze blocks have been built outside the existing boundary, so the notion that they built inside the existing boundary line is not sustainable because the pictures show where the existing boundary line is. Their new wall is clearly outside that wall.

“The wall erected by the defendants is encroaching on the claimants’ land.

“The claimants put their case for an injunction on this basis. They say this is a case where the defendants acted in a high-handed manner throughout and have deliberately overridden the claimants when they were saying there was an encroachment on their land.”

The judge found that, by April 2019, Mr and Mrs Ashraf “were on notice that they would be encroaching and that there would be a trespass,” but had carried on with their project regardless.

He found that Mrs Ashraf had said to her neighbours during a row over the issue: “If you think we have come over, then go to court.”

He added: “This was exactly what was said by them (the defendants) on 29 April: ‘If you think we have come over, go to court. We will only move the wall if the court tells us’.

“From the very get go, the defendants, when confronted with the fact that this would be a trespass, have simply ignored it and said ‘go to court’.

“This is a case where the defendants have acted in a high-handed manner and have simply not told the truth from the very start and, when told that there was an issue here, have carried on regardless.”

The judge said he would make an injunction, directing the Ashrafs to remove their extension wall.

He also told them to reinstate a fencepost they removed and made a declaration that the fence between the two houses belongs to the Dhinjans.

As well as having pay their own costs, he ordered Mr and Mrs Ashraf to pay their neighbours’ lawyers bills - estimated at almost £100,000, with £49,009 up front.

The total cost of the case was estimated by lawyers outside court at around £200,000, on top of which Mr and Mrs Ashraf will face the costs of tearing apart and rebuilding their extension.