Party walls usually separate buildings belonging to different owners but could include garden walls built astride a boundary.
Since the Party Wall etc Act 1996 came into force, property owners have had a procedure to follow when building work involves a party wall or party fence wall, some excavations close to neighbouring buildings, and new walls at boundaries. The Act permits owners to carry out certain specific works whilst at the same time protecting the interests of anyone else who might be affected by that work.
The Act is designed to avoid or minimise disputes by making sure property owners notify their neighbours in advance of certain proposed works. The Act requires that where the adjoining owner does not ‘agree’ in writing to the works a surveyor or surveyors will determine the time and way in which those works are carried out.
What is covered by the Act?
There are some things that you can only do to a party wall after notifying your neighbour and either with the written agreement of the neighbour or with a Party Wall Award prepared by a surveyor/s. Such works include:
- cutting into a wall to take the bearing of a beam, inserting a damp proof course
- demolishing, raising or rebuilding a party wall
- underpinning a party wall or part of a party wall
- excavating foundations within 3m 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.
- if you propose to build a new wall on the line of junction (boundary) between two properties.
What do I have to do?
If you intend to do any of these things, you must give written notice to your neighbours at least two months before starting any party wall works or one month for ‘line of junction’ or excavation works.
Before you start the specific works you must either have your neighbour’s written agreement to the proposed works or appoint a surveyor to prepare a Party Wall Award in respect of them.
What if there’s a dispute?
Where written agreement is not given, within 14 days of the notice, the solution the Act provides is for both parties to appoint a surveyor.
The surveyors draw up an ‘Award’ which details the work to be carried out, when and how it will be done and usually records the condition of the relevant part of adjoining property before work begins. It may also grant access to both properties so that the works can be safely carried out and the surveyor/s can inspect work in progress.
The Award will determine who pays for the work if this is in dispute. Generally, the building owner who started the work pays for all expenses of work and the reasonable costs, but these will be apportioned between the owners where appropriate.
The relationship between the Party Wall Surveyor and the appointing owner is not that of client and agent. It is a statutory relationship that requires the surveyor to see that the provisions of the Act are properly complied with. It is therefore essential that the surveyor is properly acquainted with Party Wall procedures.