The legal lines behind Kensington's red and white striped house - Spear's Magazine

The legal lines behind Kensington's red and white striped house

Arabella Murphy explains why you can't just get up a ladder and repaint your neighbour's circus tent facade

The owner of a house in Kensington was bitterly disappointed by her neighbours' opposition to her plan to demolish and rebuild the house with a two-storey basement. One night last week, after her planning application was refused, workmen painted the white-fronted house with bright red stripes, giving it the cheerful air of a circus tent or beach hut – and giving her long-suffering neighbours a headache.

It is well-known that an Englishman's home is his castle, and to some extent, planning laws reflect this. You are normally free to decorate the exterior of your house to your own taste, with or without stripes – or, in the case of a home in Hartlepool, 75,000 beer cans. You can, if you wish, grow plants that engulf it entirely, as a Chelmsford owner did.

However, if the house is listed – meaning that it is registered as having some historical, architectural or other significance – then you may not be able to do any of those things without consent. In addition, you often need planning permission to do internal works as well.

Don't fancy a stripy neighbouring property? The well-advised purchaser can actively seek out a property in an area with enhanced planning controls. A number of the large estates in London have estate management schemes which impose restrictions on freehold properties which may extend to the external decoration of a building.

Of course, a purchaser should be aware that while such a scheme may prevent a neighbour from extravagant external decoration, it could also inhibit the purchaser's use of its own property.

The current trend for 'iceberg extensions', where a property may have multiple levels of basements, does require planning permission, as do almost any works to extend the size of your home (with minor exceptions).

Many residents in central parts of London feel that the fashion has gone too far, as recent media reports of neighbouring properties collapsing, and other horror stories, illustrate. Some boroughs are now tightening up – Kensington and Chelsea included – to the relief of some and the chagrin of others. Presumably, properties which benefit from existing planning permissions for significant basement schemes will also now be of greater interest to certain purchasers.

And another thing you can't do is build yourself an actual castle – or at least not without permission, as a man in Surrey was forced to concede last week. After a seven-year fight, his mock-Tudor castle will shortly be demolished.

So, what can be done if your enjoyment of your own castle is threatened by a neighbour's plans or decorative tastes? Take careful advice. One thing you can't do, sadly, is shin up a ladder and paint their house white again (that's criminal damage).

If this were a protest statement by the owner, she wouldn't be the first, and locals shouldn't hold their breath for the stripes to go. In 1986, a homeowner in Oxford installed a huge fibreglass shark on his roof in what he said was a statement about nuclear war, but which his neighbours wittily referred to as a 'short shark shock'.

Despite considerable efforts by the local council to have 'Jaws' removed as a breach of planning regulations, it was saved by Michael Heseltine, and is still in place nearly 30 years later.

Arabella Murphy is a partner at boutique private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP