What is the Party Wall Act?

If you’re considering building an extension, removing all (or part of) a shared wall or even adding insulation to the cavity of a shared wall, then it’s important to be clued up on The Party Wall Act and its implications.

However, sometimes it can get a little tricky to wrap your head around everything that’s involved with the process. To make things a little easier, we’ve put together a guide on the basics of The Party Wall Act, starting with a brief overview and working all the way through to what to do if there’s a dispute.

What is The Party Wall Act? 

The Party Wall Act is a framework that helps to prevent (or resolve) disputes in relation to party walls, boundary walls and party structures.

Anybody in England and Wales (The Party Wall Act does not apply to Northern Ireland or Scotland) that wishes to carry out any work that falls under any of the above categories must give fair notice to the owners of any land that is adjoined to theirs.

Put simply, if you’re planning to do work on or near a wall or structure that divides your property from your neighbours, you’re legally obliged to give your neighbour notice.

What’s a party wall? 

The easiest example of a party wall is the wall that divides the two properties of a semi-detached house. Both parties ‘own’ the wall, so to speak, so in order to do any kind of work on or close to it, one owner must have written permission from the other.

GOV.UK put it nicely when they stated:

‘It is often helpful in understanding the principles of the Act if owners think of themselves as joint owners of the whole of a party wall rather than the sole owner of half or part of it.’

However, the act doesn’t just cover walls that divide properties. It also covers:

  • A wall that forms part of one building, but which acts as a boundary line between two properties.
  • A garden wall. Although it is not part of any building, a garden wall acts to divide the land between two properties.
  • The floors and ceilings of flats or maisonettes.
  • Any excavation close to an adjoining property or structure.

What falls under The Party Wall Act? 

As a rule of thumb, any work that may affect the structural integrity of the party wall (or cause damage to the other side of the wall) usually falls under The Party Wall Act.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • The demolition or rebuilding of a shared wall
  • Changes to the height, structure or thickness of the shared wall
  • Underpinning the shared wall
  • Excavation within 3m of the shared wall (if the excavation will go beneath the foundations of the neighbouring structure or building.)
  • Excavation within 6m of the neighbouring building (if the excavation will go further than 45 degrees beneath the foundations of the neighbouring building). This one is a little complicated – if you’re in any doubt, it’s probably best to speak to a surveyor.
  • Installation or insertion of damp-coarse or insulation.

What doesn’t fall under The Party Wall Act?

Of course, there are a few things that don’t fall under The Party Wall Act – putting up shelves, replastering and rewiring are all perfectly fine to undertake without getting a Party Wall Agreement.

How do I serve notice to comply with The Party Wall Act? 

If the work you’re planning on carrying out falls under The Party Wall act, your next step will be to make sure that everybody affected by the work has been notified correctly.

The best way to do this is to provide written notice of the work, including:

  • The full names of the owners of the property that is having the work done
  • The address of the property where the work will be carried out
  • A brief overview of the work due to be carried out
  • The names of all the owners of adjoined property
  • A proposed start date
  • The date the notice is served AND a clear notification that the notice is being served under The Party Wall Act 1996.

(This can get tricky however – for excavation and other work, you need to make sure you serve the correct notice.)

Depending on the type of notice you must provide this notice at least one or two months before the work is due to start and it must be given to every neighbouring party.

Once the notice has been served, the neighbouring parties have 14 days to give their responses. If all consent, then work can begin. If any of the neighbouring parties don’t consent – or don’t give an answer – then the notice is put into dispute.

What happens if there is a dispute? 

When there is a dispute, no work may commence until all parties have agreed in writing to the original (or revised) notice.

The best thing to do – if you’re on good terms with your neighbours – is to pop around and see if you can work things out together, perhaps they have concerns about the work or have simply forgotten to consent to it. In these situations, talking everything through and coming to a written agreement is often the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to resolve the issue.

However, if this isn’t an option or your neighbour disagrees with the work completely, you may have to call a surveyor to draw up an award.

What does drawing up an award mean? 

When there’s a dispute, the two (or more) parties can assign a surveyor (or two surveyors) to impartially consider the notice and the work and to decide whether or not the work can go ahead. The permission to go ahead (or to stop the work) is called an award.

According to GOV.UK, an award is a document which:

  • sets out details of the work that will be carried out
  • details when and how the work will be carried out
  • specifies any additional work required
  • often contains a record of the condition of the adjoining property before the work begins
  • allows access for the surveyor(s) to inspect the works while they’re going on as maybe necessary (to see that they are in accordance with the award).

Can I dispute an award? 

If you disagree with the surveyor’s judgement or decision once they’ve made an award, you have 14 days to appeal to a County Court against the Award. The County Court will have the final decision.

What do I do once we’ve come to an agreement? 

Once all of the parties involved have come to an agreement, then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get working. (All work must be underway 12 months after the agreement – if it isn’t, then the process has to begin again.)

While work is being carried out, it must always comply with the agreed notice. (To be safe, all agreements should be retained to ensure a record of the granted permission. Sometimes, people interested in purchasing properties want to make sure the all work on the property was carried out in accordance with the Party Wall Act requirements.)

As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, this is just a basic introduction to The Party Wall Act – if you’re after more detailed advice (or a surveyor to draw an award), get in touch with Christopher Anthony on 0203 727 5195.

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