Party Walls – everything you need to know

 

Party walls – everything you need to know

If you are considering an extension to your property, or any building work that could affect a shared wall or adjoining property, read on for helpful information and guidance about what’s involved. No stone is left unturned!

 

The definition of a party wall

A ‘party wall’ is a wall that stands astride the boundary of land belonging to two or more owners and either forms part of a building, separates two or more buildings or consists of a ‘party fence wall’. 

A wall is a ‘party fence wall’ if it is not part of a building and it stands astride the boundary between the land of different owners as a way of separating their land, for example a masonry garden wall. Wooden fences and hedges are not defined as party fence walls.

A wall is also a party wall if it stands wholly on one owner’s land, but is used by two or more owners to separate their buildings. 

 

Your party wall responsibilities

If you are planning on carrying out any building work near or on a party wall, you must tell your neighbours, known as the Adjoining Owner, provide them with a Party Wall Notice and draw up a written party wall agreement. If you use a builder or an architect they should be able to advise you on this, although they will not serve the Notice for you.

 

The Party Wall etc. Act 1996

This came into force on 1st July 1997 in England and Wales, acting as a framework to enable development or works that affect party walls to be undertaken, whilst providing protection for Adjoining Owners and occupiers. 

It was devised to prevent building work that could compromise the structural integrity of any shared walls or adjoining properties. 

It is also there to stop disputes between neighbours and help to resolve them if they arise. 

What building works are notifiable under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996

If you plan to dig, whether for foundations or other purposes, to a depth greater than the depth of neighbouring foundations and within three metres of a neighbour’s building, you will need to serve Party Wall Notices. You will also need to serve notice to dig a trial pit in order to ascertain the depth of your neighbour’s foundations.

If you are excavating to a greater depth, for example for piled foundations, within six metres of a neighbour’s property, in some circumstances this will trigger the service of a Party Wall Notice. This is the case if a 45-degree angle drawn from the bottom of neighbouring foundations would intersect any part of your excavation.

The most common type of work we deal with is when alteration works are being carried out which require steelwork to be supported by a party wall. Other works such as the removal of a chimney, insertion of a new damp proof course or flashing, and raising the height of a party wall, are also covered.

You will also need to notify your neighbour if you intend to underpin the wall or to demolish and rebuild.

The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 also covers work to party structures (typically, the walls and floors between flats) so, if you are a developer adding storeys to an existing apartment building for example, you are likely to have to serve Party Wall Notices in connection with this work, too.

 

Building on the site boundary

Any construction abutting the ‘line of junction’, or boundary line, will trigger the service of Party Wall Notices. This applies whether you intend to build astride the line of junction, or wholly on your side. You will only be able to build astride the line of junction with your neighbour’s approval.

If you are constructing a garden wall, Party Wall Notices are still required as they would be for a building, but no such notices are required for erecting a fence.

If, for example, you are constructing an extension up to the boundary line, you will need to ensure that the building’s eaves or guttering do not oversail the adjoining property, as this could lead to trespass issues, which would be dealt with separately from the Party Wall process.

 

What building works are not notifiable under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996?

You do not normally need to serve Party Wall Notices if you are completing minor work like putting up shelves, redecorating, or renewing plaster to an existing internal wall as these are unlikely to affect the wall’s structural integrity.

The types of Party Wall Notices

A Party Wall Notice is the document you serve on your neighbours. It details the works that will be carried out and it is accompanied by the building plans. There are up to three notices that need to be served, dependant on the type of building work you intend to carry out:

  • Section 1 – Line of Junction (one month’s notice)
  • Section 2 – Party Structure Notice (two months’ notice)
  • Section 6 – Adjacent Excavation (one month’s notice)

In some cases, all three notices will need to be served. 

 

Why Party Wall Notices are important

The dispute process can only be started if Notices have been served. This is important if early works were negligent in some way and caused damage. Any dispute would have to be settled by the Building Owner as a matter of Common Law, which could end up being very expensive. 

 

How you can help to prevent a dispute with your neighbour – the ‘Adjoining Owner’

We recommend that you, as the Building Owner who intends to do the work, first discusses the planned work, in full, with the owner of the other property affected, the Adjoining Owner. 

This should hopefully provide an opportunity for relevant details to be settled at the outset and pave the way for a party wall agreement to take shape. This will help relationships with your neighbour and demonstrate that you intend to take the right steps in protecting yourself and them.

 

What happens after you serve the Notices

The Adjoining Owner or occupier has 14 days to respond. If you receive no reply within 14 days, they are deemed to have dissented. 

If, after serving a further notice requiring action within 10 days, no response is forthcoming, your surveyor will be able to make an appointment on the Adjoining Owner’s behalf, so that their interests in the party wall are represented by an independent third party. Once this appointment has been made, a party wall award can progress in the usual way.

The options for a neighbour (Adjoining Owner) dissenting to the works

When responding to the notices, the Adjoining Owner has two options. They can agree to use the Building Owner’s appointed surveyor to act as their ‘Agreed Surveyor’, meaning that both parties’ interests are represented by a single surveyor – an appropriate option for simple works where the Adjoining Owner wants the protection of a party wall award, but issues are unlikely to be contentious.

Alternatively, the Adjoining Owner can appoint their own surveyor. Ordinarily, this means that the Building Owner will bear the costs of two party wall surveyors.

 

What happens if the two surveyors don’t agree

The two appointed surveyors will select a ‘Third Surveyor’, who will be the ‘deciding vote’ when they don’t agree. This means that, where an Agreed Surveyor arrangement isn’t in place, there are always two surveyors in agreement. This is designed to facilitate sensible decisions and to keep the project moving forward.

Party wall award detail

There are three main constituent parts to a party wall award: 1) The award itself; 2) The Photographic Schedule of Condition (PCoS); 3) Drawings showing details of proposed works, which are likely to have been sent with the initial notices.

The party wall award includes information under a number of different headings. These broadly include:

  • Details of the parties bound by the Award
  • Details of all surveyors issuing the Award, including a named ‘Third Surveyor’ if two surveyors cannot reach agreement
  • Details of the proposed works
  • Working hours
  • Indemnities offered by the Building Owner
  • Agreed hours of working
  • Details of any access arrangements over the Adjoining Owner’s land
  • Time limits for commencement of works – normally 12 months
  • A clause requiring payment of the Adjoining Owner’s surveyor’s fee.

In certain circumstances, particularly where more complex schemes are proposed, some additional information might be provided, such as: a requirement to submit method statements for approval; details relating to security of expenses; and enclosure costs. This type of information tends to be the exception rather than the rule, and might not be required for straightforward works.

 

There is no need for a party wall award if your neighbour originally dissented but subsequently consented to the work

The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 is an enabling Act designed to facilitate works, not breed conflict. As such, your neighbour, the Adjoining Owner, is free to change their mind at any time, if they are happy with your proposals. You should note, however, that you will still be liable for the cost of time spent by your appointed surveyor to date, as this will be covered by a separate contractual agreement.

 

What happens once your neighbour has consented to the building work

When your neighbour returns the signed consent form within the 14-day period, you will be free to progress with your work. 

It might still be worth preparing a ‘photographic schedule of condition (PSoC)’ of your neighbour’s property to protect both parties. This not only means that your neighbour is far less likely to make spurious claims for damage, but it also helps to protect your neighbour in the event that construction work causes damage to their property, as they can evidence the condition of their property before the works started.

If a neighbour knows that they are able to make use of the protection of a schedule of condition, you might find them to be more willing to consent to work without the expense involved in preparing a full party wall award.

If justifiable cause, such as damage to the neighbour’s property, arises, this would allow the neighbour to retract their consent, at which point a party wall award would become necessary. In our experience, this is highly unusual.

More information about a Photographic Schedule of Condition (PSoC)

A PSoC is a document made up of two parts: a description of the building elements and their condition; and supporting photographs which back up the text description.

In a party wall situation, only the condition of the Adjoining Owner’s property is recorded. It’s not necessary to record the Building Owner’s property as if damage occurs to their own property during building works it is their responsibility.

If an Adjoining Owner dissents, carrying out a PSoC is the next step in the party wall process after surveyors (or an agreed surveyor) have been appointed, and visited the property to consider the proposals on site and assess any risks. 

Although a PSoC is not strictly required by the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, it is wise to carry one out even if the Adjoining Owner consents to the work.

Clearly documenting the condition of the Adjoining Owner’s property with a PSoC, before building work starts, makes any later dispute over damages much more straightforward for the surveyor to assess and resolve, as they will be able to easily determine if the alleged damage already existed or is new and caused by the works. 

 

The PSoC inspection

Usually the Building Owner’s surveyor will carry out the PSoC, taking notes and photos on site. If the Adjoining Owner has appointed their own surveyor, they will shadow the surveyor during the inspection.

The surveyor will inspect the Adjoining Owner’s areas which could be affected by the building works. For relatively minor works, like a simple extension, this will usually be within a three-metre radius of the proposed works. For particularly high-risk works, such as basement excavation or underpinning, the distance would be extended to roughly a six-metre radius. 

 

The role of the party wall surveyor

For their fee, the party wall surveyor will prepare and serve the Notices, carry out the PSoC, make or obtain a party wall award and deal with any other matters arising from a dispute.

 

Responsibility for the party wall surveyor’s fees

Typically, it is the Building Owner’s responsibility to pay their own and the Adjoining Owner’s fees, since it is their works that are being carried out. 

If the Building Owner believes that the Adjoining Owner’s surveyor fees are unreasonable, they have the right to refer the matter to the third surveyor or appeal the fees in the County Court. Any appeal process must be started within 14 days of the invoice being presented.

Tip: We recommend that you always discuss the fees with the surveyor in advance, the first instance and, later, ask to see their timesheets. 

In rare circumstances, the Adjoining Owner could be liable for fees, for example if they are asking the Building Owner to carry out work over and above their initial intention e.g. changing materials or asking for a party wall to be built higher than planned. They could also be liable for fees if they instruct their party wall surveyor on matters outside of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. If they refer matters to the third surveyor and the third surveyor finds in favour of the Building Owner, the third surveyor will apportion their fees between the Building Owner and the Adjoining Owner as is reasonable. 

 

Other costs the Building Owner could be liable for

The Building Owner will be responsible for covering the costs of any repairs that need to be carried out on the Adjoining Owner’s property as a result of their works. They will also have to cover the surveyor’s fees for dealing with this dispute.

If the Building Owner intends to enclose on the neighbouring property’s wall, they will be liable for enclosure costs. 

 

What happens when the building work is completed

There is no formal sign off procedure for party wall works within the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. This is because, particularly with Section 6 (Excavation) work, any damage in connection with the works could take some time to manifest.

However, we do recommend that you check that the Adjoining Owner is happy upon completion of the works. Comparing the current condition of the area against the PCoS is a great way to do this.

 

Making good any damage

After the building work is completed, the Adjoining Owner or their party wall surveyor should inspect the condition of their building, comparing it to the PSoC carried out before the building work started. If any damage caused in connection with the party wall works is identified, it will become the Building Owner’s responsibility to fix it to the Adjoining Owner’s satisfaction. 

Alternatively, damages in lieu of making good could be paid by the Building Owner to the Adjoining Owner, which should be enough to allow the Adjoining Owner to cover the cost of ‘making good’ work themselves.

It is possible that damage may become noticeable later on, as new installations settle or bed in. Because there is no formal sign-off procedure, if damage can be shown to be linked to the party wall work, there can be redress from the Building Owner months after works are completed.

Tip: We recommend keeping all party wall documentation with your property’s title deeds, so they can be referred to in the future if required. This can also help to reduce any complications during a property sale.

 

Next steps

If you are ready to go ahead with your building works, or you have any further questions on this topic, you should contact your local Party Wall Surveyor who has been recommended to you. Alternatively, contact Harrison Clarke’s team of friendly, experienced and highly competent party wall surveyors. They will be delighted to help you.

Call 023 8155 0051 

Email info@harrisonclarke.co

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