What is a Party Wall and what are my obligations?

November 20, 2017

Party walls are governed by the terms of The Party Wall etc Act 1996 (The Act). The Act defines a wide range of circumstances where a wall, or structure, is to be considered a Party Wall and maintainable as such. These circumstances range from walls dividing terraced and semi-detached buildings, to walls that fall entirely on one owners land but form the boundary line for a neighbouring property. Floor and ceiling structures that separate properties from those above and below are also considered to be party structures and covered by the Act. Boundaries marked with wooden fences or concrete posts are not covered by the Act and property owners should refer to their title documents to see if provisions for responsibility of these areas is covered there. The Act also covers specific excavation works near neighbouring buildings but a professional should be consulted in any case for these works.

Owners should be aware that before major works are performed to a party wall they are obliged to notify adjoining owners of the intention to perform works via a party structure notice. In some circumstances there may be more than one Adjoining owner and notice should be served on all owners. It is highly advisable to speak to adjoining owners in advance of serving a notice to ensure they are aware it will be incoming and to discuss the arrangements and perhaps gauge their consent in principle. Whether the adjoining owner agrees or not the notice of the works must should still be served upon them.

The Act does allow minor works, such as the installation of shelving and wall units, without a notice or consent. However, there is an automatic obligation to ensure that any works to party walls do not cause unnecessary inconvenience to adjoining owners or adversely impact the structural support provided by the structure.  If in doubt a structural surveyor should be consulted as an adjoining owner can seek to take out an injunction to halt work of which they have not been notified and seek compensation where relevant.

Where the work considered is not minor, such as repairs to, extension of or cutting into the structure, a notice should be served. The Act does not explicitly set out the form of the notice but it is generally agreed that the notice should confirm the full details of who is serving the notice, the exact nature of the intended works. to which party wall the works are to occur and when the work is expected to take place. The notice should be dated and served at least 2 months prior to starting any works. The notice itself is valid for 12 months only and a further notice will need to be served if the work is not performed during this time or should the nature of the intended works change.
On receipt of a notice the adjoining owner may consent to the works in writing, do nothing or refuse to provide consent to the works proposed. If a party has not responded within 14 days then a dispute is automatically considered to have arisen under the Act.  On receipt of a notice a counter-notice can also be served setting out any requested modifications to the work originally proposed in the initial notice. A counter notice can be served within 1 month of receipt of the original notice but they must let the building owner know within 14 days of the original notice of their intention to serve a counter notice.

Where a dispute arises, and if matters cannot be resolved through discussion with the other party, the Act provides for a dispute resolution framework where a surveyor (or several) will be appointed to grant an “Award” that sets out the terms of the work to be performed. The terms of the Award will be final and binding on all parties unless it is modified or rescinded by a county court. A surveyor for these purposes does not need to be a professional qualified surveyor.

The gov.uk website has full and further guidance for home owners setting out further details and advice on the information provided above here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/party-wall-etc-act-1996-guidance

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