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What the Act covers, including how to serve notice on neighbours and how to resolve disputes.
What is a party wall?
The main types of party walls are:
The Party Wall Act also uses the expression ‘party structure’. This could be a wall or floor partition or other structure separating buildings or parts of buildings in different ownership, such as in flats.
About the Party Wall etc Act 1996
The Party Wall etc Act 1996 provides a framework for preventing and resolving disputes in relation to party walls, boundary walls and excavations near neighbouring buildings.
A building owner proposing to start work covered by the Party Wall Act must give adjoining owners notice of their intentions in the way set down in the Act. Adjoining owners can agree or disagree with what is proposed. Where they disagree, the Party Wall Act provides a mechanism for resolving disputes.
The Party Wall Act is separate to submitting a planning permission or building regulations application.
When you need to 'serve' a Party Wall Act notice to an adjoining neighbour
Some works on a party wall may be so minor that it may not be necessary to serve notice, such as when plastering, cutting into a wall to install recessed electric wiring and sockets, or drilling into a wall to fix plugs and screws for ordinary wall units or shelving.
Other works, such as excavations or underpinning near a property boundary, inserting a damp proof course, or building a party wall astride the boundary line between properties will likely require you to serve a Party Wall Act notice.
The main point to consider is whether your planned work may have consequences for the structural strength and support functions for the party wall, or if the work may cause damage to the other side of the party wall. If you are in any doubt, you should get advice from a qualified building professional before carrying out any work.
Serving a notice to an adjoining owner
There is no official form for giving notice under the Act, but it must include the following details:
your own name and address, including any joint owners
the address of the building where work is taking place
a full description of what work you intend to carry out, including plans if you have them
whether you propose to strengthen or safeguard the foundations of any structure or building belonging to an adjoining owner, including plans that show the location and depth, if excavation work is proposed.
The notice should be dated and you should consider including a clear statement that it is a notice under the provisions of the Party Wall Act.
For most works involving a Party Wall Act notice, if an affected adjoining owner does not reply within 14 days, or does not agree to your proposal, then you will be in dispute and need to follow the resolution process as detailed in the Act. An adjoining owner may also decide to issue you with a counter notice within one month of receiving notice.
Who you need to notify
Anyone with an interest in the wall that is greater than a yearly tenancy is known as an ‘adjoining owner’. This may include the freehold building owner, a leasehold building owner, a long-term tenant, or any combination of the above.
By law, you must notify each adjoining owner under the Party Wall Act.
How much notice you need to give before building
How much notice you need to give depends on what you are planning to do. A Party Wall Act notice is only valid for 1 year, so you should not serve one on works taking place after this period of time.
If you are planning work that involves an existing party wall, you will need to provide all affected adjoining owners with at least two months’ notice in order to reply. If they don’t reply in 14 days, you will be classed as being in dispute.
If you are planning a new building on the boundary line between any neighbouring property, which includes the building of a new party wall, you will need to provide all affected adjoining owners with at least one months’ notice in order to reply. If they don’t reply after this period of time, you may start work.
You must also provide all affected adjoining owners with at least one month’s notice in order to reply if you are planning on excavating either:
within 3 metres of an adjoining owner’s building or structure and the excavation will go deeper than the adjoining owner’s foundations; or
within 6 metres of an adjoining owner’s building or structure and the excavation will go deeper than a line extending 45 degrees downward from the bottom of the adjoining owner’s foundations.
For excavation work, if the adjoining owner doesn’t reply in 14 days you will be classed as being in dispute.
You may propose an earlier date with the written agreement of all affected adjoining owners. In either case you will need to write to all affected adjoining owners informing them of the work you intend to carry out.
Receiving notice from an adjoining owner
You will have 14 days from the date the notice was served on you to respond in writing, otherwise in most cases it will automatically be considered a dispute.
Within a month of receiving the notice, you may issue a counter-notice which sets out what additional or modified work you would like to be carried out to your benefit, although you’ll have to pay for this work.
If you intend to issue a counter-notice, you should let the person who served the Party Wall Act notice know within 14 days of receiving it. They’ll have 14 days from the date your counter-notice is served to reply, otherwise you will automatically be considered in dispute.
Who pays for the work under the Party Wall Act
The person serving the Party Wall Act notice usually pays for any building works that they start on a party wall.
The person being served with the Party Wall Act notice may have to meet a share of the cost if the work needs to be done because of defects or lack of repair. They will also have to pay for any additional works they have requested using a counter notice.
Disputes with adjoining owners
The best way of settling any point of difference is by friendly discussion, but you should always put any agreements in writing. If you cannot reach an agreement, you should first try to agree appointing a surveyor to act for both of you to draw up an ‘award’.
Alternatively, each can appoint a surveyor to draw up an award together, with a third surveyor being selected if the two cannot agree. This approach naturally involves additional costs in surveyor fees.
In all cases, surveyors appointed under the dispute resolution procedure of the Party Wall Act must consider the interests and rights of both owners and draw up an award impartially. Any surveyor should not be the same person you intend to employ or have already engaged to supervise building work, nor should they have any interest in the matter.
Party wall awards
If one or more surveyors are appointed to resolve a dispute, they will prepare an ‘award’ which states:
the work that is to be carried out
when and how the work will be carried out
any additional work or protective measures that are required
the condition of the adjoining property before the work begins
allows access for any surveyors to inspect the work as it progresses
who will pay the surveyor’s fees (usually the person serving the notice).
This award is final and legally binding unless it is amended by the Court. Each party has 14 days to appeal to the county court against an award if they believe the surveyor’s determination is fundamentally wrong. You should consider taking legal advice before lodging an appeal.
Council involvement in boundary disputes
We have no powers to get involved with Party Wall Act or boundary disputes, although we may investigate breaches of planning permission or building regulations if these have occurred as a result of the work.
Consequences of not serving a Party Wall Act notice to an adjoining owner
If you don’t serve the correct notice as specified under the Party Wall Act, an adjoining owner is able to reclaim any resulting damages to their property, as well as compensation and their legal fees, through the courts. An adjoining owner is also able to take out an injunction to stop your work until you have served valid notice under the Act, which may result in further legal fees.