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Building? How to avoid neighbourly disputes over a dividing wall

There is no user manual for all aspects of homeownership, from moving, to taking occupation and to maintaining and understanding common and uncommon defects. Albert van Wyk has more than 38 years’ worth of building experience and has put all he has learned into a concise, easy-to-use reference book entitled, The Proud Home Owner. He has granted HomeTimes exclusive access to republish portions of his book to help homeowners make better decisions around buying and selling, as well as maintaining their properties.

Balustrade and hand rails

Please note that glass balustrades on stairs, balconies, bridges or swimming pools should be designed by a glass competent person or an engineer. A certificate should be issued stating that it was installed according to his design.


Make sure that the design of a steel or timber balustrade is safe. No opening must be big enough to allow a ball of 100mm diameter to pass through.

A handrail or a wall must be provided next to any flight of stairs with three or more risers.


The minimum width of a tread is 200mm (make it 300mm if possible). This is a comfortable size to walk on; the maximum height of a riser is 200mm (make it 170mm which is a practical height).

PaintingPainting resize

Make sure that the walls are dry enough before the painting is started. The paint will trap the moisture in the plaster if it has not dried sufficiently and this will affect the paint later. Try to use standard colours of paint as it will be easier to match in the future. Remember that paint will fade.

Metal window frames should prior to glazing be painted with an anti-corrosive primer. Wooden door and window frames must be treated with either one coat of pink wood primer, or an oil-based wood preservative product before they are installed. Ensure that these products are also applied where the frame touches the brickwork.

Albert says: “Mix ‘Plasterkey’ with cement to a paste form and use that to repair chip marks in the walls and corners, instead of any other fillers.”


You should appoint a reputable, specialist waterproofing contractor to waterproof the top of a concrete roof slab. He must provide a guarantee of at least five years for workmanship and material. Boundary walls, retaining walls and parapet walls should also be waterproofed on top to prevent water ingress.

Boundary wallsdividing wall

Make sure where the stand’s boundary pegs are. These are 12mm round steel rods which were installed by a land surveyor and marked with paint.

A boundary wall must be built next to the surveyor’s peg, and the peg should never be removed. The wall should be constructed on the stand which is developed first. You cannot build the wall on the neighbour’s stand.

The wall should also not be built on both stands, with the peg in the middle of the wall even if costs are shared.boundary wall

How disputes arise

There is a wire fence between the stands and owner B refuses to contribute to the cost of a new wall.

Owner A builds a wall on his side of the peg at his cost. He is not obliged to plaster or paint the wall on the side of owner B, but it must be neat and clean. Owner B is not entitled to remove the wire fence without permission of owner A, who is co-owner of the fence.

Owner B may only plaster or paint his side of the wall with permission of Owner A because he is not a co-owner of the new boundary wall.

Do not fill up the ground against a boundary wall, unless it is designed as a retaining wall. Also warn your neighbour not to do this.

The boundary wall should not be tied into a wall of the house. There should be a joint because they will move differently: One is carrying weight and the other one is not.

Do not plaster the wall level at the top, but plaster it with a slight angle in order for the water to run off onto your property, or even better, install a coping tile on the top. In that way it will also waterproof the wall.

Show the below detail of the expansion joint to the contractor, and insist that the walls are built that way.

waterproof wall

The ultimate, if you have the funds, is to waterproof the bottom 1m of the wall to protect it against water from the irrigation sprayers.

wall crack

This is what will happen if the joint is not constructed correctly: The plaster will crack next to the joint. In this case, the joint is also in the wrong place.

Provide enough drain holes in the wall to allow stormwater to drain away. You and the neighbour should ensure that there is no build-up of storm water on either side, because the wall could collapse. Determine the position of the drain holes after consultation with the neighbour. You are expected by law to accept stormwater from a higher stand than yours, or to allow it to cross your property to a lower stand.

There are always exceptions to the law. You do not have to accept ALL the stormwater from the neighbour, especially if he has deliberately changed the natural ground level to divert all the water to your stand.

Next time: How to properly construct retaining walls

For more, and to order your copy of The Proud Home Owner, click here, or visit Gauteng Home Inspections if you’re building, buying or doing maintenance


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