When Is A Party Wall Not A Party Wall?

Party walls are a very confusing area of property law, and it’s probably one of the most common areas we get questions about. Both building owners and adjoining owners tend to be unsure about what a party wall is and when the party wall act applies. So in this article, we explain exactly what a party wall is, and when it’s relevant.

What Does the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 Cover?

The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 is a primary legislation that talks all about party walls, and excavation and construction within certain distances of neighbouring buildings or structures. Most people are a little confused by the title of the Act, especially as it isn’t clear what ‘etc.’ means. Since etc. means ‘and so forth’, the act really explains the rights and obligations to owners to all sorts of things on top of works to party walls – including excavation. If you’re not sure what’s included, we have videos on our YouTube channel that explain exactly which works are notifiable.

Basically, Section 1 of the Act relates to a new building or wall on the line of junction, the legal boundary between two buildings or land ownerships. Section 2 of the Act relates to work directly to an existing party wall, and Section 6 of the Act relates to excavation within three or six metres of an adjoining structure or building.

What Is A Party Wall?

Party walls are defined by section 20 of the Party Wall etc Act 1996, which also gives us some good definitions for other important terms used in the Act. In the Act, there are two types of party walls:

Type A: The Act defines this as ‘a wall which forms part of a building and stands on the lands of different owners to a greater extent than the projection of any artificially formed support on which the wall rests.’

Type B: A type B party wall is essentially a wall separating two buildings, which has been built right up to the boundary line wholly on the land of one owner. This type of party wall does not straddle the boundary.

Type B can get a little confusing, but not as much as part A, so we’re going to clear that up.

Firstly, to be a type A party wall, the wall has to form part of a building (not necessarily the main building of the house), and the wall must straddle the boundary line. It doesn’t have to straddle that line equally, it just has to be on both sides of the line to be considered a party wall. The second part of the definition talks about the foundations that the wall is supported or built on. Basically, this means you ignore the position of any foundations even if they go across boundaries. The concern with party walls is the position of the actual wall, not the supporting foundations.

And most importantly, when a party wall is on the line separating two owners land, the entire wall (full height and length) is considered a party wall, and both owners have the right to make use of the wall.

Garages on Party Walls

Often, we will speak to people whose neighbours have built a garage up to the boundary line, and want to know if that is now a party wall. If the wall is detached and not separating the two buildings, then its not a party wall. We’ve had situations in the past where an adjoining owner doesn’t want the building owner to knock down what they see as their garden wall, but it’s actually the neighbour’s garage. In this case it hasn’t been enclosed upon, and so isn’t a party wall as defined by the Act, so there’s very little they could do.

However, if you were to then extend your property and enclose on a wall like this one, so that it becomes the separation between two buildings, that section of wall would become a Type B party wall. It’s important to know that you can’t do this without permission from your neighbour, and if you do it without getting consent by serving a party wall notice, then it’s considered trespass.

Are Garden Walls Party Walls?

Ahh, garden walls get even trickier. Garden walls are called ‘party fence walls’ in the Act. Just to confuse things, fences aren’t actually party fence walls! To clear that up, it’s best we look at the act:

‘” Party fence walls” means a wall (not being part of a building) which stands on the lands of different owners and is used or constructed to be used for separating such adjoining lands, but does not include a wall constructed on the land of one owner the artificially formed support of which projects into the land of another owner’.

So like a Type A party wall, the second part of this definition is talking about the foundations of the wall. This means you simply ignore the position of the foundations, even if they encroach over the boundary. Again, we’re concerned with the position of the wall itself when figuring out if it’s the party fence wall or not. Simply put, a party fence wall is a garden wall that sits astride the boundary of two lands.

Wait, so What’s a Party Fence?

Don’t worry, we know it’s confusing, and we’ve had people call us many times because their title deeds state that the fences defining their boundaries are referred to as party fences, and they don’t understand what that means. All it usually means is that the maintenance responsibility for those fences is shared between both neighbours – it doesn’t mean those fences are covered by the Party Wall Act. In fact, if this phrase is included, your deeds probably preceded the Act!

At Harrison Clarke, we are a specialist firm of chartered building surveyors. If you’re a building owner or adjoining owner and aren’t sure whether your wall is a party wall, our experienced team of party wall surveyors can steer you right. If you’d like to know more about what we do and how we can help you, just get in touch by phone on 023 8155 0051, or email us at info@harrisonclarke.co.

We also have a range of videos talking through various aspects of the Party Wall process. You can access them via our website or our YouTube channel

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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.