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The Party Wall etc. Act 1996

Party walls are walls used by more than one building owner, for example, the dividing wall between two houses. Floors between flats are known as party structures and boundary walls can be party fence walls.

In 1997, the Government introduced party wall legislation across England and Wales in the form of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, designed to regulate building works to these types of walls, as well as neighbouring excavation works. All types of buildings are covered by the Act (residential, commercial and industrial) and failure to comply with this legislation may result in the building works being unlawful.

The Act is intended to enable development, whilst protecting adjoining owners and occupiers. It places obligations on the building owner who wishes to undertake such development to notify his or her neighbours in writing of what is proposed. If necessary, the Act provides statutory procedures for appointing surveyors who then resolve matters by way of an "Award". Although an Award specifies the format that the person carrying out the work is required to adopt, it does not allow an adjoining owner to stop someone exercising his or her rights to conduct work under the Act. It does, however, ensure the works are performed in such a manner that protects all adjoining owners' interests.

Determining whether a building project is within the scope of the Act is often complex but the principal categories of such involvement are:

  • Works physically affecting the party wall between two properties
  • Works physically or indirectly affecting an adjoining building
  • Excavations and/or building works that could have an impact on adjacent but remote properties or structures
  • Work on an existing wall, ceiling or floor structure shared with another property
  • Building on or at the boundary with another property

Before commencing any building works, for example, a loft conversion or an extension, you should check to see whether the Party Wall Act applies. Failure to correctly identify the status of your project could result in the works being unlawful. If you are in any doubt, we can provide professional advice and clear guidance.

Should it transpire that the Act does apply, you must serve the statutory notice on all those defined in the Act as adjoining owners. There may be several owners to consider, i.e., lessees and freeholders.

What type of building work does the Act cover?

Most work of a structural nature is covered by the Act, including:

  • Work that affects an existing party wall such as carrying out structural repairs, underpinning or raising the wall, removal of a chimney breast or cutting steel beams into a wall or a loft conversion.
  • Demolishing and rebuilding or altering a party fence wall, which is a masonry garden or yard wall.
  • Inserting a damp-proof course, even if only to your own side of a party wall.
  • Raising a party wall and, if necessary, cutting off any objects preventing this from happening.
  • Demolishing and rebuilding a party wall.
  • Underpinning a party wall or part of a party wall.
  • Weathering the junction of adjoining walls or buildings by cutting a flashing into an adjoining building.
  • Excavating foundations within three metres of a neighbour's structure and lower than its foundations.
  • Excavating foundations within six metres of a neighbour's structure and below a line drawn down at 45° from the bottom of its foundations.

What type of building work is not covered by the Act?

The Act relates only to certain specific types of work and is permissive in nature. It is not just another way to object to and try to prevent your neighbour’s works from proceeding, nor is it intended to be applied to everyday minor jobs that do not affect the structural integrity or loading of a party wall, such as:

  • Fixing plug sockets
  • Screwing in wall units or shelving
  • Adding or replacing electrical wiring or sockets
  • Replastering your walls

What action is required if the proposed work falls within the Act's remit?

You are obliged to give written notice to anyone with an interest in the party wall or in nearby properties in the case of excavations. This notice should fully identify the owner who intends to have the work undertaken and describe the work proposed providing plans and details, if possible, to ensure the recipient fully understands what is proposed.

Work involving party walls or party structures requires two months' notice, whereas for certain excavations or new walls built at the boundary, one month's notice is needed. The adjoining owner then has fourteen days in which to reply. Agreement to the proposed work must be provided in writing.

If an adjoining owner expressly disagrees or does not reply to a notice within fourteen days of receipt then he or she is deemed to have dissented and a statutory "dispute" arises. Adjoining owners may also serve a counter notice indicating additional work they would like included for their own benefit and at their own cost.

What happens if a dispute arises?

Each owner, i.e., building and adjoining owner(s), must appoint a Party Wall Surveyor to act for them individually, or agree on a single surveyor to act for all parties independently, known as the "Agreed Surveyor". Where two surveyors are appointed to act for each owner individually, a "Third Surveyor" must also be selected to act as a point of reference, or adjudicator, for the owners or the appointed surveyors should a disagreement arise within the Award.

The party proposing to carry out any works under these categories is termed the "Building Owner" who is required to give prior notice of his or her proposals to an adjoining leasehold and/or freehold property owner who is termed the "Adjoining Owner".

When a statutory dispute has been established one of the following procedures is adopted:

  1. The Adjoining Owner agrees and consents to the proposed work.
  2. The Adjoining Owner disagrees and both sides appoint their own surveyor to settle all differences and produce an "Award" which lays down, in detail, the works proposed and all conditions precedent.
  3. The Adjoining Owner disagrees and both parties concur in the appointment of one surveyor termed the "Agreed Surveyor" who, on his or her own, produces an Award on the same basis.
  4. The Adjoining Owner fails to respond, whereafter a surveyor may be appointed for him or her and the matter proceeds as item 2 above.
  5. When two separate surveyors are involved, immediately they are appointed, they select an additional surveyor, termed the "Third Surveyor", to be called in to act if one of them becomes unable to proceed, or to mediate any differences that arise between them or that might arise between the Building and Adjoining Owners.

In minor matters, such as very small domestic building work, it is quite realistic to simply agree the proposals. In larger projects, or where the Adjoining Owner has any concerns, the matter proceeds to an Award but, in any situation, the Building Owner is required to indemnify the Adjoining Owner against the possibility of damage that might arise either accidentally or by negligence. Such damage is determined by reviewing a Schedule of Condition of the original condition, which is normally agreed by the surveyors at the outset.

Fees

In all normal circumstances, the Building Owner pays the fees of all/any appointed surveyors, although this could be changed by an Award from the Third Surveyor when settling any dispute.

In any proposal that is beyond straightforward building construction (dependent upon the nature of the works), the appointed surveyors may need to make a secondary appointment for any other specialist advice required, such as that from a Structural Engineer, whose justifiable fees are also paid by the Building Owner.

Awards

The purpose of an Award is to document the details of the Building Owner's proposals that have a direct or consequential affect upon the Adjoining Owner's land or property and to record the conditions and requirements under which the Building Owner must execute those works. The documentation includes drawings and other working details, together with method statements agreeing the procedure.

At the Easterling Marsh Partnership we can ensure that any disagreements are resolved in a fair and practical way with the issue of a Party Wall Award.

Whether you are planning on undertaking work, or your neighbour has served notice upon you, we can assist in ensuring that either the building works are undertaken with a minimum of inconvenience or, alternatively, that your rights are protected and your property safeguarded should damage occur.

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