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By Lucy Thompson

Party Wall Act: What you need to know

If you are planning an extension project, renovation project and/or reconfiguration of your property, you may be under a legal obligation to serve Party Wall Notice upon your neighbour (hereinafter referred to as an Adjoining Owner), even if you do not physically share a wall with them. The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (the Party Wall Act) is totally separate legislation from Planning or Building Regulations. No Local Authority planning permission or Building Regulation approval would eliminate the need to serve a Party Wall Notice upon your neighbour(s) if your works trigger the Party Wall Act.

If you have never heard of the Party Wall Act don’t worry, you are not alone, we are here to help.

On projects that fall under the Party Wall Act we work closely with the Party Wall Company Ltd, and independent Chartered Surveying practice specializing in Party Wall matters. We have collaborated with Jason Hughes, Chartered Building Surveyor and Party Wall Surveyor with over 20 years Party Wall experience to explain how the Party Wall process works.

As leading renovation architects specialising in delivering a variety of projects across LondonSurreyOxfordshireBuckinghamshireBerkshire and the Cotswolds we have vast experience in working on properties falling under the Party Wall Act. It is imperative to have professionals well versed in the process to guide you through ensuring you have undertaken all the necessary legal steps and, at the same time, protect you from the possibility of costly legal proceedings and breakdown of neighbourly relations.

The Benefits

The Party Wall Act grants extensive rights, which do not exist within common law, to Building Owners undertaking certain construction work. The Adjoining Owner cannot use the Party Wall Act to stop you undertaking your building project. The Party Wall Act essentially provides a framework for amicably preventing and resolving disputes between neighbours in connection with party walls and structures, boundary walls and excavations near neighbouring buildings.

Just some of the benefits to Building Owners include:

  • enabling works to be carried out legally
  • providing defined timescales to prevent others from delaying your project
  • offering protection from future claims of damage
  • preventing the expense of going to court.

Furthermore, the Party Wall Act can provide access onto neighbouring land to execute any necessary works in pursuance with the Party Wall Act, including the placing of scaffolding upon their land to facilitate the notifiable works. No other piece of current legislation provides this benefit.

What is the process?

The Party Wall Act can be split into two stages; firstly, the Notifying Stage and secondly, if required, the Disputed Stage.

Stage one is where you have a legal obligation to serve formal Notice(s) detailing the proposed works upon the Adjoining Owner. If the Adjoining Owner is satisfied that your proposed works will be of no inconvenience or pose no threat of damage to their property, the Adjoining Owner only needs to confirm, in writing, that they consent to the works and the Party Wall Act process could end there.

Stage two would be triggered if the Adjoining Owner had any concerns relating to your Party Wall notifiable works or, chose to ignore the Notice(s) served upon them. A dispute would then be deemed to have arisen and the framework provided by the Party Wall Act would enable a resolution, so you can undertake works whilst providing protection to both parties. At the point of a “dispute” having arisen, both you and the Adjoining Owner will have to appoint a Party Wall Surveyor to proceed with resolving the dispute.

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First things first:

The first thing to consider is whether you need to legally serve Party Wall Notice(s) upon the Adjoining Owner. It is not purely an extension or loft conversion that triggers the Party Wall Act but, the specific works you are undertaking. Set out below is a non-exhaustive list of typical works where you will need to serve valid Party Wall Notice(s) upon the Adjoining Owner at least 1 month (maybe 2 months if works are to a Party Wall) before commencing works.

  • An extension, whether that be to the rear, side or into the loft.
  • Conversion of a basement, garage or loft.
  • Alterations, demolition or repairs to a wall, ceiling or floor shared with another property.
  • Roofing works, including to the chimney.
  • Building a free-standing wall, or a wall of a building, up to or astride the boundary with a neighbouring property.
  • Excavating and casting foundations within 3 or 6 metres of an adjoining building owned by someone else.

Notices without the key information can cause critical and unnecessary cost and time-related delays as such a Notice would be considered invalid. If a Notice is invalid, the Adjoining Owner could require you to commence the whole process again, thus delaying your building project and, potentially losing your contractors or having to pay them to stand around.

When the Adjoining Owner is served with a Party Wall Notice, they could become worried about how your building project would affect them and, the legal terminology used. Party Wall Company, therefore, always include a detailed covering letter explaining the process and reasons for the Party Wall Notice(s). The Adjoining Owner is also invited to contact The Party Wall Company, so they can answer any questions about your building project and allay any fears they may have. We always recommend hand delivering Notices as we find this usually obtains a better response and allows you to make this formal process less formal and more neighbourly.

The failure or avoidance of serving a Notice can lead to expensive delays and legal costs if the Adjoining Owner seeks to stop unauthorised building works through a Court Injunction. In a worst-case scenario, Adjoining Owners can even apply for a Mandatory (pulling down) Injunction against works wholly or partly completed.

The response

Once you have served the relevant Notice(s) upon the Adjoining Owner, they have 14 days in which to provide you with their formal response. All responses need to be in writing. There are 3 ways in which the Adjoining Owner can respond.

  1. Consent

If the Adjoining Owner confirms in writing that they Consent to your Notice(s), the Party Wall process could end there.

  1. Dissent but concur to use an Agreed Surveyor

A dispute would be deemed to have arisen. The word “dispute” can create worrying connotations. There is no need to worry, dissenting simply means a legally binding Party Wall Award prepared by a Party Wall Surveyor would need to be in place before you can commence any Party Wall notifiable works. In this instance, the Adjoining Owner could agree to use the same Surveyor as you, what is referred to as an Agreed Surveyor. As Party Wall Surveyors do not have clients, they have statutory appointments, they are duty-bound to administer the Party Wall Act impartially.

  1. Dissent and appoint a separate Surveyor

This option is as option 2 above but, the Adjoining Owner wishes to appoint a separate Party Wall Surveyor. Accordingly, there would be two Surveyors involved in negotiating the legally binding Party Wall Award before you can commence any Party Wall notifiable works. The only procedural difference from appointing an Agreed Surveyor is that when each party appoints a separate Surveyor, the two Surveyors have to select a Third Surveyor from the outset who would only become involved should the two Surveyors reach an impasse and request that the Third Surveyor makes a binding determination on the impasse. Both owners would also be able to go to the Third Surveyor should they have an issue.

The Party Wall Act provides only a “Consent” or “Dissent” response. However, we often find that although some neighbours want to Consent, they do want some sort of documentation to feel protected.  A solution to this  We can, therefore, provide the Adjoining Owner with an additional option, namely, Consent (option 1) but subject to a Schedule of Condition Survey being undertaken before Party Wall notifiable works commence. Providing this option to the Adjoining Owner can deter them from taking you down the formal Party Wall route at greater expense when all they really want is a survey to record the current condition of the parts of their property near to the notifiable works. A Condition Survey provides a helpful reference document protecting you and them in the event damage occurs. Even if the Adjoining Owner gives a positive Consent response to the Notice(s), we advise such a Condition Survey is undertaken in any event to prevent the possibility of the Adjoining Owner confusing damage which may have already been there to being attributed to your building works.

Ignoring your Notice is not an option

If the Adjoining Owner does not formally respond to your Party Wall Notice after the 14 days, there are 3 ways of progressing matters.

  1. Do nothing and wait for a response which is fine if your proposed works aren’t due to commence in the near future.
  2. Politely chase them for a response.
  3. Serve a Notice under Section 10(4) of the Party Wall Act.

As discussed above, you must receive a formal written response to the Party Wall Notice(s) from an Adjoining Owner. If this is not forthcoming, before you can undertake your Party Wall notifiable works, you must give them a final chance to formally respond by serving a Section 10(4) Notice, commonly known as a “10 Day Notice”.

The Party Wall Company can prepare and serve the 10 Day Notice on your behalf. This 10 day Notice requests that the Adjoining Owner responds within 10 days in writing, with either a signed acknowledgement Consenting to the proposals as set out on the Notice(s) or, a signed Letter of Appointment confirming the formal Appointment of their Surveyor. Failure to do so would allow you to Appoint a Surveyor on their behalf under Section 10(4) of the Party Wall Act with no further notice or communication, so as not to frustrate your proposed building works.

Issuing a 10 Day Notice on the Adjoining Owner should only be used as a last resort as there is a chance they will Dissent and either appoint a Surveyor of their choosing, or you will have to appoint a separate Party Wall Surveyor for them. Additionally, the option of the Agreed Surveyor will no longer be applicable. Accordingly, there will be two appointed Surveyors with two sets of fees. This option will need to be used, however, if a formal response is not forthcoming, as a non-response from an Adjoining Owner is classed as a Dissent and a Party Wall Award will need to be in place before any Party Wall notifiable works can commence.

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Party Wall Awards

As discussed above, in the event that the Adjoining Owner either ignores your original Notice(s) and the 10 day Notice or formally Dissents to your Party Wall Notice(s), a legally binding Party Wall Award will need to be in place before you can commence any Party Wall notifiable works. Following service of the Award, you are free to commence your Party Wall notifiable works safe in the knowledge you have fulfilled your legal obligations.

A Party Wall Award will include details of, for example, how the works are to be undertaken; working days and times; measures required to protect the Adjoining Owner’s property from damage and unnecessary inconvenience; and make provisions for making good or the payment of compensation should damage be caused. An Award would also normally include Schedule of Condition Survey detailing the current condition of the areas of the Adjoining Owner’s property which could be affected by the Party Wall notifiable works.

The cost of the Party Wall process

You are now probably wondering how much all this is going to increase the cost of your build. The small cost involved in agreeing a Party Wall Award will be minimal compared to how much your building works will cost overall, and the advantages and protection the Party Wall Act can provide.

If the Adjoining Owner Consents to your Party Wall notifiable works, the only cost would be that of serving the relevant Party Wall Notice(s). The Party Wall Company can prepare and serve all the valid Party Wall Notices to the Adjoining Owner(s) at a cost of just £60 plus VAT per neighbouring property.

In the event of the Adjoining Owner Dissenting, The Party Wall Company can provide you with a fixed cost once all the details are known about the works involved, so you know exactly where you stand from the outset.

In most normal circumstances, it is the Building Owners (the party instigating and benefiting from the works) who will be responsible for paying the appointed Party Wall Surveyor(s) fees, even if the Adjoining Owner appoints their own Surveyor.

The amount of the Adjoining Owner’s Surveyor’s fees won’t be known until the process has run. However, for budgetary purposes, we find the Adjoining Owner’s Surveyor’s fees are typically around £1,000 – £1,200 plus VAT for modest residential projects.

Alleged damage

To allay any fears you may have, please be assured that it is very rare damage is caused by Party Wall notifiable works. If you were to find yourself in the unfortunate position where an Adjoining Owner is alleging damage has been caused by your Party Wall notifiable works, without the Party Wall Act the only way you will be able to redress any disputed damage is through the Courts. This would test the best of neighbour relationships, not to mention the expense incurred going to Court.

In the unlikely event that your building project does cause damage to the Adjoining Owner’s property, and that damage is a direct result of the Party Wall Notifiable Works set out in the Award, you have two options, (1) agree with the neighbour that your contractor would correct the damage; (2) agree to make a payment to the Adjoining Owner in lieu to cover the damage. Should you dispute liability for the damage, or dispute the cost or extent of the damage, you can create a dispute under the Act and have Party Wall Surveyors resolve the matter by way of a legally binding Award.

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Summary

If the proposed building works have been established to fall under the Party Wall Act, you are legally obliged to serve Party Wall Notice(s). To make this process run as smoothly as possible for you, we always consult the Party Wall Company.

The next steps are then to:

  1. Arrange for the relevant Party Wall Notice(s) to be served and ensure they are valid to prevent unnecessary delays.
  2. Depending on how the Adjoining Owner responds, you may need a Party Wall Award in place before you commence any Party Wall notifiable works.
  3. Once a Party Wall Award is in place you are free to commence your Party Wall notifiable works, subject to the outstanding notice period being waived or having expired.

Are you planning an extension or renovation project?

As leading  high-end residential architects with vast experience of succesfully and smoothly navigating project under the Party Wall Act, we provide architecture services throughout LondonSurreyOxfordshireBuckinghamshireBerkshire and the Cotswolds. We work very closely with specialists like the Party Wall Company, to ensure your project runs smoothly. We’d love to help you plan your renovation or extension.  Find out more about how we work or get in touch for an initial meeting with Ben Holland or Stephen Green.