Many rural homes obtain their supplies of fresh water from sources which lie beyond their boundaries and such arrangements can sadly prove fertile ground for dispute. A case in which a farmer and his niece were at odds over water rights showed the wisdom of seeking early legal advice so that such disagreements can be nipped in the bud.
The niece lived with her partner and young son in a converted agricultural building which had been bequeathed to her by her grandfather in his will. The property was served by a water pipe connected to a borehole on neighbouring land which was owned by her uncle.
A dispute developed after a tap was turned off, disconnecting the property from its water supply. The pipe was subsequently severed by the uncle's workmen and not repaired. The niece and her family were as a result dependent on tanked and bottled water for about a year.
After the niece took action against her uncle, a judge found that the property was already connected to the borehole when it was conveyed into her grandfather's sole name. He and any future owner of the property therefore had a right – or easement – to continue to draw water from the borehole. Turning off the tap and refusing to reconnect the water supply amounted both to a substantial interference with that right and a nuisance.
Given that probate in respect of her grandfather's estate had yet to be granted, the niece did not own the property and her occupation of it was tenuous. The judge, however, noted that she had a reasonable expectation that she would become its legal owner in due course. Her occupation, which had been tacitly accepted by the executor of her grandfather's will, was in any event sufficient to found her nuisance claim.
The judge made a formal declaration that the property is entitled to a water supply from the borehole and granted the niece an injunction to ensure that supply. Her uncle was also ordered to pay her £5,500 in damages to reflect the inconvenience she suffered whilst the property was deprived of piped water.