Sometimes when buying a property not everything may be all that it seems. All homes will be connected to some form of drainage system. In rural areas this may be septic tanks. In urban areas, it is invariably mains drainage. If there is mains drainage, it is assumed that once the drains leave the boundary of the property, they become the responsibility of the drainage authority. In this area, that would be Thames Water.

However, this may not always be the case.

In a recent legal case, Mr Mustafa had purchased a freehold property. It was discovered that the pipes serving the building and removing waste water were connected to a surface water sewer rather than a waste water, for treatment. A misconnection was located underground, outside the property.

Mr Mustafa was served a notice by Enfield Council under section 59 of the Building Act 1984, stating that satisfactory provision for drainage for the building had not been made, and requiring him to carry out the necessary rectification work at his own cost.

Mr Mustafa appealed to the magistrates' court, arguing that liability for the works fell on the local authority or Thames Water. The magistrates dismissed his appeal as Parliament had determined that to protect public health, the property owner should be served with the notice and pay the costs.

When buying a property, especially an older one, don't assume that all is well underground. Always ask your surveyor to carry out appropriate checks to make sure you do not suffer a similar fate and end up with thousands of pounds going down the drain.

  • David Marsden is a Partner in the Commercial Property team at award-winning law firm VWV, with offices on Clarendon Road, Watford.