What does the Act cover?
- New building work at or astride the boundary line between properties
- Various work directly affecting an existing party wall including: extending it; underpinning it; rebuilding it; cutting into it to take the bearing of a beam; repairing it; or reducing its size
- Excavating or constructing foundations for a new building within three metres of a neighbouring owner’s building where that work will go deeper than the neighbour’s foundations
- Excavating or constructing foundations where that work will go deeper than the neighbour’s foundations, within six metres of a neighbouring owner’s building where that work will cut a line drawn downwards at 45degrees from the bottom of the neighbour’s foundations
What is a party wall?
A wall is a party
- It stands astride the boundary of land belonging to two or more different owners
- It belongs totally to one owner, but is used by two or more owners to separate their buildings. Where one person has built the wall in the first place and another has butted their building up against it without constructing their own wall, only the part of the wall that does the separating is ‘party’ – sections either side are not ‘party’
The Act also uses the expressions:
- ‘party fence wall’ – a wall which is not part of a building, that stands astride the boundary line between lands of different owners and is used to separate those lands. This does not include such things as wooden fences
- ‘party structure’ – a wider term which includes a floor partition or other structure separating buildings, or parts of buildings approached by staircases or entrances
The Act defines an owner as anyone (other than a mortgagee) with an interest greater than a tenancy from year to year. This means that there may be several ‘owners’ of one property.
The general principle in the Act is that the building owner who initiated the work pays for it. The Act says that the “reasonable costs” shall be paid as determined by the surveyor or surveyors (usually the surveyor’s fees). Of course what seems reasonable to one person-the adjoining owner-may not seems reasonable to the person who is usually paying-the person doing the work, but Alan Riley Associates have extensive experience of current fee levels and can provide a good idea of what would be considered ‘reasonable’. Alan Riley Associates have a unique fixed price contract for building owners. Please contact us for information if you have a building project with work that falls within the Act. If your neighbour appoints their own surveyor, that surveyor will normally charge on an hourly basis, but again, the costs must be ‘reasonable’.
What is a party wall notice?
A building owner intending to carry out work covered by the Act must give notice of the intended works to all the relevant adjoining owners. This notice must include: the owner’s name and address; the building’s address (if different); full details of what is proposed (including plans where appropriate); and the proposed starting date. In the case of excavations, the notice must also state whether the owner proposes to strengthen or safeguard the foundations of the building or structure belonging to the adjoining owner and it must be accompanied by plans.
At least two months’ notice is needed of works to an existing party wall; and one month for a planned new wall or for excavation within the specified distances. This can only be varied by the agreement of the adjoining owner in writing.
Can my neighbour stop me carrying out work?
No. An adjoining owner cannot stop someone from exercising rights given to them by the Act, but can influence how and when the work is done.
Can we just agree the work without involving surveyors?
Yes. Under the Act, a person who receives a notice about intended work may give consent within 14 days, in which case there is no need for surveyors to be involved. But if an adjoining owner does nothing, a dispute is regarded as having arisen. Beware, silence is not deemed to be consent!
If your neighbours are minded to consent, they should do so in writing on an acknowledgement to the party wall notice and return it to you. Your neighbours could consent, but subject to a schedule of condition of their property being carried out. This is often an economical solution when neighbours just require reassurance that their interests will be looked after, but otherwise have no issues.
If they do not consent, they could agree to the appointment of one surveyor to act for both of you (an ‘agreed surveyor’). This would be economical for the building owner. They may however wish to appoint a separate surveyor to act for them.
Is an ‘agreed surveyor’ impartial?
Yes. A surveyor’s appointment is a statutory appointment under the Act. Surveyors are appointed to administer the provisions of the Act, and the owners are ‘appointing owners’ under the Act and not the surveyors’ clients. Surveyors must administer the Act in an impartial way.
If I consent to my neighbour’s works, can I still get any damage put right?
Yes. If you consent to your neighbour’s works and there is damage caused to your adjoining property and you cannot agree how this is to be put right, this is considered to be a new ‘dispute’ which can be settled by surveyors appointed at that later date.
Does all work to a party wall require notice?
No. Minor works such as drilling into the party wall to put up shelves, re-plastering or putting in electrical sockets do not require notice. Examples of work that does require notice are: cutting into the party wall to insert steel beams or flashings; underpinning, demolishing or re-building a party wall; excavating within 3 metres of and to a greater depth than the foundations of the adjoining building.
Can party wall surveyors settle a boundary dispute?
No. The Act does not give surveyors appointed under the Act the power to resolve boundary disputes.
Choosing a party wall surveyor?
Remember that anybody can call themselves a ‘party wall surveyor’ so look for: a person who has experience and a background as construction professional- a building surveyor, an architect or a structural engineer. Whilst professional qualifications are, sadly, not always a guide to competence, they are a good place to start. Also, as with any professional service, word of mouth and testimonials are key factors. Making the wrong decision at this stage can be expensive.
Can I prepare my own party wall notices?
There are free templates on internet and on the government website (see the linkon our contacts page), but we find that many ‘DIY’ notices are incorrectly drafted, do not properly describe the works or do not contain the correct information. This can lead to problems later and can send costs soaring if you serve a badly worded notice and your neighbour appoints a surveyor who spends time at your expense sorting things out. Also, with a well drafted notice, your neighbours may be more willing to share an ‘agreed surveyor’ which will keep your cost down. We are happy to guide you through this, so for free, no obligation guidance on how to serve your own notices contact Alan Riley ( firstname.lastname@example.org ).
Do I need drawings of my proposals to serve a party wall notice
Only in specific circumstances relating to excavation is it strictly necessary to have drawings accompanying a party wall notice, but clear details of what you are proposing will help your neighbours to understand your proposals. We find that, many planning applications for domestic projects are accompanied by the most sketchy drawings-sufficient for planning but not for party wall purposes. Nobody wants to spend money on designers preparing detailed drawings if planning consent is not to be granted, and is sometimes better to wait until detailed design drawings are prepared before serving notice. Planning drawings rarely show how the project will affect neighbouring properties and are often ambiguous or inconsistent in this respect. We can advise on what drawings should accompany a party wall notice. We find that poor drawings or an inability to get information from your designer is one of the key factors affecting party wall surveyor costs-so choose your designer wisely!
Can I serve Notices by Email?
Yes you can.
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (Electronic Communications) Order 2016 provides for notices and other documents to be sent by email but only if —
- the recipient has stated a willingness to receive the notice or document by means of an electronic communication,
- the statement has not been withdrawn, and
- the notice or document was transmitted to an electronic address specified by the recipient.
So, if you want to use email to communicate with your neighbours you must ask them first and get the specific email address that emails should be sent to. This is particularly useful if a property is rented out and the owner lives overseas.