Party Walls – everything you need to know

Key Points

  • A party wall stands astride the boundary of land belonging to multiple owners and forms part of a building, separates buildings, or serves as a party fence wall.
  • A party fence wall stands astride boundaries, separating lands; excludes wooden fences and hedges.
  • Notify neighbours, serve Party Wall Notice, and create an agreement for building near or on a party wall.
  • The Act enables development while protecting Adjoining Owners, avoiding structural compromise, and resolving disputes.
  • Notify neighbours for deep excavation near foundations, digging trial pits, underpinning, raising walls, and other modifications.
  • Any construction along the boundary line requires Party Wall Notices; building astride the line needs neighbour’s approval.
  • Minor tasks like shelves and redecorating usually don’t require Party Wall Notices if structural integrity isn’t affected.
  • Three types of notices: Line of Junction, Party Structure Notice, and Adjacent Excavation.
  • Notices must be served to initiate the dispute process; failure can lead to costly disputes.
  • Discuss plans with the neighbour (Adjoining Owner) to settle details and facilitate a party wall agreement.
  • The Adjoining Owner has 14 days to respond; lack of response is deemed dissent.
  • Neighbours’ consent allows work to proceed; Photographic Schedule of Condition is recommended for documentation.
  • Keep party wall documents with property’s title deeds for future reference and property sales.


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!


What is 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’. Graphics of hands shaking with two houses next to each other denoted a party wall agreement.

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.

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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 are Party Wall Notices 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.

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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.

Close up of a party wall.

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.

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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 


Who is an Adjoining Owner?

When a Building Owner starts notifiable construction work on a property, the owner must serve a Party Wall Notice on any Adjoining Owners. It is not as simple as assuming all neighbours are considered Adjoining Owners. The Party Wall Act states that an adjoining Owner is any owner, and any occupier of land, buildings, storeys or room adjoining those of the Building Owner. This can include freeholders, leaseholders or tenants depending on the terms of their lease.

Confused by the Party Wall Notice?

Receiving a Party Wall Notice can be quite overwhelming and even feel intimidating, especially if you have never been involved with Party Wall matters before.

Upon receiving a Party Wall Notice, you essentially have two options for responding to it. You can either consent or dissent, however these options have often led to misconceptions when dealing with Party Wall matters.

Often Adjoining Owners think that by consenting they are allowing the neighbour to proceed and alternatively if they dissent, they can stop the works; however this is not true.

The Party Wall Act is an enabling Act allowing construction works to proceed. Therefore, as long as the Building Owners follow the procedures laid out in the Act, they are enabled to carry out the intended works knowing both they and their neighbours are protected, even if an Adjoining Owner dissents

Should I consent to the Party Wall Notice?

Consenting to a Party Wall Notice is the most desirable and effective outcome for all parties involved, as it allows the Building Owners to proceed with their planned construction works without dispute. However, we find that Adjoining Owners are often reluctant to consent to Party Wall Notices due to concerns in that doing so, they are signing their rights away and will not be protected from any potential damage incurred during construction works. In fact, by consenting to Party Wall Notices, you are simply stating that no dispute has arisen.

Should I dissent to the Party Wall Notice?

You have the right to dissent to the Notice, however this should only be done if you are in dispute. A dispute in terms of Party Wall matters is not always clear or obvious. A dispute could simply be that you disagree with your neighbours in how the works will move forward and need a surveyor to help resolve the issue.

An example of this is you may not have an issue with your neighbour building a new extension on their property, but they have asked for access to your garden to do so and you are not happy or comfortable with their proposals. In this instance you may choose to dissent to the Notice and appoint Party Wall Surveyors to ensure  they do have the right to access, that the procedures within the Act are followed, and a resolution is found to suit both parties.

I am not in dispute, but I am worried about consenting and the risk of damage to my property.

Consenting to the works does not mean you lose your rights under the Party Wall Act. If a dispute was to occur after your consent has been given, you still have the right to appoint a surveyor at that time.

At Harrison Clarke, we often encourage Building Owners to consider offering Adjoining Owners a Photographic Schedule of Condition even if they consent. A Photographic Schedule of Condition will document the condition of the Adjoining Owners property prior to commencing works. This has benefits for both parties, providing evidence for the Adjoining Owner should damage occur but also protecting the Building Owner from spurious claims.

Next Steps

If you are an Adjoining Owner who has received a Party Wall Notice and would like some advice from an experienced Party Wall Surveyor. Harrison Clarke can offer you a 30 minute consultation for a fixed fee of £100.00 including VAT. In this consultation, we can review your Notices and help you make an informed decision on how to respond. To book, please use our booking form which can be found on our website or call our office on 023 8155 0051. We look forward to helping you with your Party Wall matters.

What does the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 say?

“An adjoining owner may serve a notice requiring the building owner before he begins any work in the exercise of the rights conferred by this Act to give such security as may be agreed between the owners or in the event of dispute determined in accordance with section 10.”

But what does this mean?

Here are some key points to note:

• The adjoining owner must make their request for security in writing by serving a notice to the building owner.

• If notice is served, the building owner carrying out the construction works may be required to make a deposit to cover foreseeable expenses that may arise from the notifiable works.

• The adjoining owner and building owner can agree the type and amount of security themselves without the need of party wall surveyors. If a dispute does arise however, the appointed surveyors will agree the security on the owners’ behalf.

• The security can only be in relation to notifiable works and not any other issues that arise from the remainder of the project.

What is security for expenses?

Security for expenses is a mechanism which protects adjoining owners from foreseeable damage. This could be damage from the building owner failing to complete a construction project or to cover the cost of completing repairs caused by their notifiable works.

Previously, security in the form of money may have been held in a solicitor’s account with an undertaking that the money would only be released on instruction from the appointed surveyors.

However, in 2014 the Solicitors Regulation Authority advised that solicitors should not be providing these banking services unless there is a true connection between the parties and the legal services being provided by the solicitor.  It is rare for a solicitor to be involved with a party wall matter, unless something has gone particularly wrong!

As a result, money is more commonly held in an escrow account. Some RICS Regulated firms can also hold funds in a client account. When held by an RICS Regulated Firm, the money will be protected under the RICS Client Money Protection Scheme. Alternatively, security can be made through bonds or insurance, although the use of insurance can be controversial. This is because it can potentially undermine the surveyors’ statutory authority to deal with disputes that arise as a loss adjuster would be appointed to investigate claims of damage. This could also delay the course of repairs which can be frustrating and leave the adjoining owner vulnerable to further damage.

Additionally, security for expenses is beneficial for protecting parties in the event of insolvency of the contractor or party carrying out the works during the project.

What can security for expenses cover?

The Party Wall Act is not specific on what security for expenses can cover, however it is largely agreed that security for expenses can cover:

• Repairs to an adjoining owner’s property when damage is caused by the building owner’s notifiable works.

• Expenses for making the adjoining owner’s property safe and secure should the building owner abandon the project.

• Temporary accommodation if necessary and any associated costs or fees.

• Professional fees in relation to resolving the dispute.

• Alterations or reinstatement of the works undertaken by the building owner, particularly in the event of the building owner failing to complete their works leaving the adjoining owner’s property vulnerable to damage.

What should I do if my request for security for expenses is refused?

When a building owner refuses a request for security, a dispute will arise under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. Party wall surveyors will be appointed, whowill then determine whether security for expenses is reasonable for the situation.

The surveyors will consider whether security is required, how much security is reasonable, how the security will be held and the control mechanisms and timelines for using the security or releasing the funds back to the building owner. The surveyors’ role is to calculate foreseeable damage and they may obtain cost estimates from contractors or other professionals to assist in their determination. Once these have been considered, the surveyors will document this in a party wall award.

When will the security for expenses be deposited?

Before any notifiable works proceed, the party giving security for expenses, usually the building owner carrying out the works, will deposit the agreed sum into the agreed account.

When will a Building Owner get their money back?

Security is often released in stages as the notifiable works are complete and the two surveyors are happy that the works have been completed to a satisfactory standard. However, every situation is different, and advice should be sought from a party wall surveyor as to the release mechanism. This will also be documented in the party wall award. It is important to remember that the funds will only be released when agreed by both surveyors.

A phone and a speech bubble witha house inside it.

Need help with a Party Wall dispute?

Use the contact form below. Don’t worry, we only use the information your provide to contact you.

Faye Williams, party wall and building surveyor at Harrison Clarke chartered surveyors.

About the author

Faye Williams,
BSc (Hons) MFPWS Senior

Surveyor & Winner of Young Property Person of the Year 2023

Faye joined Harrison Clarke in 2018. Faye found an interest in Party Wall surveying, and became a Member of the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors in 2022.

Since then, Faye has set out a revolutionary approach to party wall instructions, by focusing on people and relationships, backed up by expert knowledge. Faye’s approach has saved building owners £1,000s in unnecessary party wall fees. 

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