Party Wall Agreements
If you are planning a home improvement project that affects an adjoining or shared wall or boundary with your neighbours you may need to consider issuing a party wall agreements. You will also be required to serve a party wall notice. The Party Wall Act 1996 applies to nearly all works carried out to party walls.
If works to the property are minor in nature, such as rudimentary repairs, replastering or cutting into the party wall to recess electrical wiring and sockets, you can use a straightforward Party Wall Agreement to record the work to be carried out.
What Is A Party Wall?
A party wall is a separating partition between two adjoining properties that is shared by the occupants of each building. This applies to both residential and commercial premises.
The main types of party walls are:
- A wall standing on the land of two or more owners and composes part of a building. The wall can be part of one building or separate buildings belonging to different owners.
- A wall that stands on the land of two owners but is not part of a building, e.g. a garden wall.
- A wall that is on one owner’s land but is used by two or more owners to separate their buildings
- A party structure can be a floor or other structure that divides buildings or parts of buildings and have separate owners.
The Party Wall Act also legislates for preventing and resolving disputes surrounding party walls, boundary walls and excavations near neighbouring properties.
Where a property owner wishes to start work covered by the Party Wall Act they must give adjoining owners notice. There are three different types of notice depending upon the work being undertaken.
What Type Of Building Work Requires Notice?
- A new build on or situated at a boundary between two properties
- Installation of a damp-proof course
- Works to an existing party wall or party structure
- Excavation close to and beneath the foundations of neighbouring buildings
- Building a new wall on or at a boundary of two properties
- Cutting into a party wall
- Increasing the height of a party wall, or making it shorter or deeper
- Removal of a chimney breast from a party wall
- Demolishing and rebuilding a party wall
- Digging below the foundations of a neighbouring property
It is important to note that whilst your neighbours cannot prevent you making changes to your property that are within the law, they can affect how and when those works are carried out.
Types Of Notice
There are three different types of Party Wall notices, and which one you will need to use depends upon the proposed work to be carried out.
Line of junction notice – section 1 notice
Where there is an intention to construct a wall either side or abutting a boundary which is not built upon, or where it is built upon but only by way of a simple boundary wall, a notice must be served with a minimum notice period of at least one month. This situation typically arises where a rear extension spans the width of a property and the external walls either represent the boundary line or straddle it.
Party Structure Notice – section 3 notice
This includes particular works to a party structure and limited works to an adjoining owner’s independent building. The minimum notice period for works such as this is two months and must be served on every adjoining property owner with an interest in the relevant buildings or land. The most common scenario is where a neighbour wishes to install a loft conversion but there are obviously many other situations where party structure notices are required.
Notice of adjacent excavation – section 6 notice
If any proposed works involve excavation of any type within 3 or 6 metres of a neighbouring structure (whether or not for foundations) and the proposed excavation falls within prescribed dimensional specifications in relation to the adjoining building or property, then a notice must be served. Generally speaking, in any case where the depth of the neighbours foundations cannot be confirmed, caution is advised and notice should be given.
How Much Notice Should Be Given?
You must give you neighbours between two and twelve months before the planned start of the building works as part of a Party Wall Agreement. As a gesture of good faith, you may wish to discuss the proposed works in person before sending them formal written notice. There is an explanatory booklet on the gov.uk website which provides guidance for owners who intend to carry out building work including sample letters and template notices but a quick search online will elicit numerous free standard forms.
Although there are no enforcement procedures provided within the Party Wall Act for failure to serve a notice, if any work commences without written notice being given, an adjoining owner is within their rights to obtain a court injunction to stop the work or seek other legal remedies. They cannot stop the work being carried out but they can dictate how and at what time the work is done. A building owner should not cause any unnecessary inconvenience to an adjoining owner over and above that which will probably occur when such works are tackled.
Where there has been any damage to an adjoining property caused by the work, the building owner shall either make good the damage or make payment in lieu of making good sufficient to cover the costs of repair. However, it is sensible to provide adequate temporary protection to minimise damage happening in the first place.
In residential properties Party Wall Agreements are typically required for building work that involves loft conversions, the insertion of a damp-proof course or anything that affects a building’s foundations such as the building of an extension. To start this process, the building owner serves the notice on affected (adjoining) neighbours giving full details of the proposed party wall works.
What Happens After The Notice Has Been Served?
The person receiving the notice may:
- Give their consent in writing; or
- Refuse to consent to the proposed works (in cases of refusal, the Party Wall Act provides a mechanism for dispute resolution); or
- Do nothing. After 14 days from the service of the notice, you are still waiting for a reply, a dispute is deemed to arise and the dispute resolution procedure becomes operative
- Give a counter-notice setting out any additional or modified work they would like to be undertaken for their own benefit. A counter-notice should be served within 14 days, otherwise a dispute is deemed to have arisen.
If you have already broached the subject with your neighbours, a notice of works will not come as a surprise and it decreases the likelihood of disagreements arising if they are already aware of the proposed works.
What’s Next If An Adjoining Neighbour Disagrees?
If they disagree and they do not come to a party wall agreements, or do not reply within 14 days a Party Wall Award is required. In this case both building owner and neighbour appoint ONE ‘Agreed Surveyor’ who acts impartially for both parties.
The agreed surveyor should be separate and not the same person they instructed for their own work, otherwise the neighbour may not view the surveyor as a neutral advisor. They will produce an ‘Award’ which details the proposed works, and produce a schedule of condition, including photographs of the neighbour’s home.
Surveyor rates vary from place the place but on average costs are between £150 and £200 per hour. Party wall award surveyor costs are likely to be in the region of £1000.
If you cannot agree upon a joint surveyor, each party can appoint their own surveyor but this can be cost prohibitive for the building owner who must pay for their own costs as well as their neighbours surveyor.
All these options should be clearly set out in the notice.
- Failing to provide adequate notice
- Failure to notify ALL affected neighbouring properties. This includes freeholders and any leaseholders with longer than a year left on the lease. If the property is situated in a row of terraced houses, neighbours on both sides may be affected. If the property is next to a block of flats, the notice may need to be served on a number of people. Property ownership can be checked via the Land Registry website.
- Not adequately describing the proposed works precisely enough or failing to include sufficient information and full structural details.
- Using the incorrect form of notice or not using the standard form. For example, the form of notice for a party wall is different from that for excavating foundations.
Generally speaking, your works will only usually affect direct neighbours – those on either side of your property – but there may be other affected neighbours if your building work is close to a rear boundary or excavating to a depth where you are within six metres of neighbouring foundations. It is essential you consider all aspects of your proposed alterations or developments and how they affect the owners of adjoining properties. If you do your best to foster good relationships and an open dialogue with your neighbours you may avoid any problems further down the line.