September 13, 2016

Party Walls

When you are considering carrying out work on your own property, or on a client’s property, it is important to take into consideration whether any of the planned work affects a party wall. Work that impacts a party wall is specifically dealt with in law under the Party Wall Act (1996) and there are strict requirements about steps you must take before beginning any work. In many cases, this requires a professional survey and Anderson Wilde & Harris have extensive experience in conducting such surveys for individuals as well as some of the UK’s largest developers.

What is a party wall?

A party wall is a wall that links two or more properties so that the wall cannot be said to belong wholly to any one property owner. In any terraced or semi-detached property at least some of the walls will inevitably be party walls, as will several of the walls in a flat or maisonette.

Any wall that does not link two properties simply belongs to the owner of the land on which the wall stands, and is not covered by the Act. The same applies to a part of a wall which is not shared even if another part of the same wall is, as would be the case when a smaller property adjoins a larger one.

What sort of work is covered by the act?

Most work affecting a party wall is included; obviously demolishing or rebuilding the wall is covered, as are common improvements such as inserting a damp proof course, cutting into a wall to insert a beam, underpinning a wall, or raising the wall. In addition, building a new wall on the line of junction between two properties or excavating foundations close to an adjoining building (within three or six metres depending on the depth) is covered by the act.

Certain types of common work are specifically not covered by the act as they are superficial and only affect one side of the wall. This includes inserting rawlplugs, fixing shelving or wall units with screws, adding or changing electrical sockets, and plastering walls. These kinds of changes can simply be carried out without any further action being required.

What do I have to do if I want to make changes to a party wall?

The Act is intended to make it possible for individuals or developers to carry out work on or near party walls, while also protecting the rights of those whose properties may be affected by the work.

Therefore, if you wish to carry out the kind of work covered by the act, you will have to serve notice on the neighbour with whom the wall is shared and obtain their consent.

The notice must usually be served in writing to all the owners of all affected properties at least two months before starting work and, in the case of let properties, must be served on both the landlord and the occupant. In many cases, it is best to discuss any proposed works with neighbours before serving the written notice, as this can reduce disputes and wasted time and effort later on.

If all affected neighbours provide written consent to the work within 14 days of receiving the notice, then you can proceed with the work. If, however, they explicitly disagree or simply do not respond within 14 days then they must be treated as dissenting to the work, and you will have to carry out additional steps before beginning work.

What do I do if my neighbours don’t agree to the work?

When there is a dispute about proposed work, the Act requires the appointment of a surveyor or surveyors. This can be a single surveyor who is appointed by both parties and acts impartially, or it may be that each party appoints their own surveyor.

Either way, the surveyor or surveyors will prepare an ‘award’. The award details not only the work that is and is not permitted, but also when it can be carried out and by what methods. The surveyor(s) will also record the condition of the neighbouring property before work starts, to minimise the possibility of any dispute later arising about whether damage is caused by the work or was pre-existing. The award may also specify that the surveyor or surveyors will have access to both properties for the purposes of inspecting the work in progress. Finally, the award will specify who should pay for the work; usually this is the owner of the property that benefits from the construction.

Essentially, the award aims to reduce the probability that work is carried out that was not expected by one party, or that work is done at a time or in a manner that causes damage or disruption to the neighbouring property. It also gives the surveyors oversight of the properties before and during the work so that they can act as impartial mediators in any dispute.

If damage does occur, the surveyors will prepare a further award which may order that repairs are carried out, or that the person whose property was damaged is compensated for the cost of the repair.

How can Anderson Wilde & Harris help?

As an impartial party and mediator, a professional and experienced surveyor fills a vital role in the process of making changes to a party wall. Anderson Wilde & Harris has vast experience acting in this area and have worked on projects of all sizes including some of the largest developments, and including taking cases through court proceedings when absolutely necessary.

To find out more about our work, or to discuss your requirements with us, contact us now.