Treading the party wall line
Carrying out extensions, alterations or renovations to your property in a way that will not drive your neighbours up the party wall, will ensure your project is built on solid foundations and your neighbourly relations do not hit rock bottom. Failure to follow the correct procedures relating to party walls during your home improvement projects could prove costly.
What is a party wall?
If you live in a semi-detached, terraced or linked house, party walls are those walls you share with your neighbours. This can also apply to wall and floor partitions in flats. Party walls usually separate properties belonging to different owners. Party fence walls are garden walls built along a boundary line (this does not include timber fences).Â In relation to walls which separate buildings of different sizes, the part used by both owners is the party wall.
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (the PWA)
The PWA provides a legal framework for dealing with party walls and aims to minimise and resolve party wall disputes. A property owner wanting to carry out work covered by the PWA must give the adjoining property owner notice, in accordance with the requirements of the PWA.Â The adjoining owner can agree or disagree with what is proposed. If there is disagreement, the PWA provides a mechanism for resolving the dispute.
Works covered by the PWA include:
- New building on or at the boundary of two properties;
- Work to an existing party wall or structure, including cutting into a party wall or making it taller, shorter or deeper;
- Removing a chimney breast from a party wall;
- Knocking down and rebuilding a party wall;
- Excavation near to and below the foundation level of neighbouring buildings;
- Changing a support beam;
- Damp proof installation; and
- Underpinning a party wall or part of it.
This will include most extensions, basement and loft conversions. Minor works such as plastering, shelving, installing or replacing electrical wiring or sockets are not covered by the requirements of the PWA.
Party wall notice
If you are carrying out works governed by the PWA, you must serve a party wall notice on your neighbour at least two months before the work begins. The notice must be served on all the owners of the neighbouring property affected by the works, both freeholders and leaseholders. You do not need to have obtained planning permission for your intended works before serving the party wall notice, but you must commence the works within a year of the date of the notice.
The process timeline
Day 1 – serve a party wall notice on all legal owners of neighbouring property affected by the proposed works.
Day 15 – deadline for your neighbourâ€™s response to the notice.Â If your neighbour agrees in writing, you can commence work immediately.Â If your neighbour either objects or fails to reply, the matter is in dispute, and you must follow the dispute resolution procedures in the PWA.
You will serve a further notice asking your neighbour to appoint a party wall surveyor within 10 days, or you will appoint one on their behalf.Â A joint surveyor can be agreed.
Day 26 – if your neighbour has failed to appoint a surveyor, you can appoint one on their behalf, so long as it is not the same as your surveyor.
Day 27 – the appointed surveyor will take over the dispute, carry out inspections and formalise a party wall award.
2 months after day 1 – works can begin if the party wall award has been produced and agreed.
1 year after day 1 – works must have started.
The party wall award
This is drawn up by the joint surveyor or agreed between the respective surveyors and covers:
- the existing condition of the party wall;
- the works to be carried out;
- protective measures needed for the neighbouring property;
- timescales for the works;
- a schedule of inspections; and
- a schedule of condition of the neighbour’s property.
The party wall award is a legally binding document allowing you to carry out works to your property whilst protecting your neighbour’s property. You will be responsible for making good any damage caused to your neighbour’s property in carrying out your works. The party wall award may impose restrictions and conditions on your builder and allow your builder to legally access your neighbour’s property if the surveyor deems it necessary to carry out the party wall works.
Failure to comply
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors dictates that there is a realistic potential for damage when undertaking party wall works. Accordingly, there are serious implications for failure to comply with the PWA.Â Your neighbour could apply to Court, at your expense for a party wall injunction to prevent you from continuing the works. Furthermore, if you have not obeyed the PWA and cause major damage to your neighbour’s property, you could have to pay your neighbour compensation for any loss or damage resulting from the works and their associated legal costs. If you have followed the PWA and damage still occurs, this will be dealt with by a surveyor who does not have the power to award compensation.
Practical points to consider
Ensure notices are completed carefully as mistakes and omissions will invalidate the notice.
- To be valid, the notice must include the start date (at least 2 months after the date of the notice) and drawings.
- The notice must be served on all current legal owners of the neighbouring property, so check these details with the Land Registry.
- You are responsible for the fees of your neighbour’s surveyor. Agreeing on a joint surveyor from the start will save time and money. Consider talking to your neighbour before serving notice to ask them if they have a preferred surveyor.
- The surveyor must be independent and not employed on the works project.
- If your plans change after serving notice, for example, you increase the size of the extension, you should be able to submit revised plans to your neighbour rather than serve a new notice.
- This article is from the viewpoint of the person undertaking the works, but the principles apply equally in reverse. If your neighbour commences works affecting your property or a party wall, you may wish to seek professional advice on any notice, or lack of notice, in order to protect your property.
Do not let your plans hit the party wall
Seeking advice from a specialist party wall solicitor will help your renovation project run smoothly.
Saracens Solicitors is a full-service legal firm based in the West End of London. Our residential property department can assist you on all aspects relating to party walls. Please contact our residential property team on
020 3588 3500 for advice.
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