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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
(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.
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.
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:
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.
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.