We appreciate that many people wishing to carry out works on their property have the requirements of The Party Wall Act thrust upon at a relatively late stage in the pre-construction process. We also understand it can be a daunting process for those that have not experienced it before. Here, Michael White C.Build.E MCABE MFPWS, one of our senior surveyors, offers his “beginners guide” which aims to provide an outline understanding of party walls and the requirements of the Party Wall Act….
What is the Party Wall Act?
The Party Wall etc Act 1996 provides a procedure to follow when building work involves a party wall or party fence wall, some excavations close to neighbouring buildings, and new walls at boundaries. The Act permits owners to carry out certain specific works, including work to the full thickness of a party wall, whilst at the same time protecting the interests of anyone else who might be affected by that work. The Act is designed to avoid or minimise disputes by making sure property owners notify their neighbours in advance of certain proposed works.
The Act provides a mechanism for resolving disputes and enabling works to proceed. It also requires that, where the adjoining owner does not ‘agree’ in writing to the works, a surveyor or surveyors will determine the time and way in which those works are carried out.
What is a party wall?
Party walls usually separate buildings belonging to different owners but could include garden walls built astride a boundary – known as party fence walls. Where a wall separates two different size buildings often only the part that is used by both properties is a party wall, the rest belongs to the person or persons on whose land it stands.
The “etc” within The Party Wall etc Act 1996 is so included because the provisions of the Act are not limited to party walls, they also include party structures and party fence walls.
Section 20 of the Act defines each:
“party fence wall” means a wall (not being part of a building) which stands on 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; “party structure” means a party wall and also a floor partition or other structure separating buildings or parts of buildings approached solely by separate staircases or separate entrances;
What is covered by the Act?
There are certain items of work that you can only be done after notifying the adjoining owners and either receiving written agreement of the neighbour or with a Party Wall Award prepared by a surveyor/s.
Notifiable works include (but are not limited to):
o cutting into a wall to take the bearing of a beam, for example for a loft conversion
o inserting a damp proof course, even if only to your own side of a party wall
o raising a party wall and, if necessary, cutting off any objects preventing this from happening
o demolishing and rebuilding a party wall
o underpinning a party wall or part of a party wall
o weathering the junction of adjoining walls or buildings by cutting a flashing into an adjoining building
o excavating foundations within three metres of a neighbour’s structure and lower than its foundations
o excavating foundations within six metres of a neighbour’s structure and below a line drawn down at 45° from the bottom of its foundations.
Notices are also required if it is proposed to build a new wall on the line of junction (boundary line). A party wall surveyor will usually be able to confirm which work is notifiable and advice the notice period and type of notice required.
What is not covered by the Act?
The Act relates only to certain specific types of work and is permissive in nature. It should not be seen as a method of objecting to or preventing works and it is not intended to be applied to minor jobs that do not affect the structural integrity or loading of a party wall.
It is generally agreed that works such as fixing plug sockets, screwing in shelving or replastering walls are minor works and do not require a notice.
The workings of the Act are always instigated by the of issuing notices. This is the first stage of the process and, without the issue of valid notices, no further action can be taken under the provision of the Act.
Written notice must be served on adjoining owners at least two months before starting any party wall works (one month for works to the line of junction or excavations). All adjoining owners must be served a notice and there are likely to be instances where there is more than one adjoining property and more than one owner of each property (ie: if the adjoining property is split into flats and owned on a leasehold basis, notices will be required to both leaseholder and freeholder of all flats affected by the works). Works to a party wall, or those affecting a ceiling or floor, will also require a notice to adjoining owners living above or below.
Valid notices must contain the following information as a minimum:
The name and address of the building owner; The nature and particulars of the proposed work including plans, sections and details of construction methods The date on which the proposed work will begin.
It is essential to include the correct details on a notice as, if they are deemed invalid, then any subsequent actions are also invalid.
Responses To Notices
On receipt of a notice, an adjoining owner has three possible courses of action:
- To consent to the works going ahead as described. A consenting Adjoining Owner retains all rights under the Act including the right to appoint a surveyor later in the process if there is a dispute at that stage.
- To dissent and appoint a surveyor. The Act allows the Owners to concur in the appointment of a single ‘Agreed’ surveyor or appoint their own separate surveyor.
- Issue a counter notice to set out certain conditions required for the benefit of the Adjoining Owner. The Counter Notice should set out what additional or modified work the Adjoining Owner would like to be included for his benefit
In most cases, if the adjoining does not respond within 14 days then a deemed dispute is said to have occurred and the person carrying out the work must appoint a surveyor to act on the adjoining owners behalf.
If adjoining owners provide written consent to the works as set out within the notices, then there is no dispute to resolve and no further need for party wall surveyors or, indeed, the Party Wall Act. Assuming work proceeds as detailed within the notice and no damage is caused, then no further involvement is necessary.
If adjoining owners dissent to the works (or if no response is received and a deemed dissent has arisen) then a dispute has occurred which must be resolved under the requirements of Section 10 of The Act. It is worth reiterating that the Act is one of enablement, it is not there to prevent works from taking place and it offers a route to end disputes at every stage. Where written agreement is not given, the solution the Act provides is for both parties to appoint an ‘agreed surveyor’ who will act impartially or for each owner to appoint a surveyor who in turn appoint a third surveyor. The surveyors then work together to agree the terms under which work may proceed. The surveyor(s) will review the plans, notices and structural details of the works and, after considering the impact of the works, will draw up an agreement which sets out the terms under which work can be carried out (the Award).
The Party Wall Award
The award will usually record the condition of the relevant part of adjoining property before work begins (this is not a requirement under the Act but is considered good practice and is duly provided by most good surveyors). The award may also grant access to both properties so that the works can be safely carried out and the surveyor/s can inspect work in progress.
Generally, the building owner who started the work pays for all expenses of work and the reasonable costs incurred by all parties as a result, this will include the surveyors fees for both Building Owner and Adjoining Owner.
About the author:
Michael has been working in the construction industry for 18 years. He has a first class honours degree in Building Surveying from the University of Reading and now practices as a Party Wall Surveyor and Building Engineer in the high end residential sector.
Michael is a Chartered Building Engineer (C.Build.E) and member of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (MCABE). He is also a member of the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors (MFPWS) and an associate member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (AssocRICS).
Michael is one of two directors at White & Lloyd Ltd, a chartered construction consultancy based in Weybridge, Surrey. The practice is accredited by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB).