Litigation and Dispute Resolution
Neighbour disputes: party walls
When either you or your neighbour is contemplating work to extend or improve a property it may impinge on a boundary wall between the two properties. If it is a party wall you have certain rights that can influence the progress of the scheme. However, you will first need to check that the boundary is indeed a “party wall”.
What is a party wall?
- A wall standing on land of two owners; or
- However much of a wall that separates the building of two owners.
A party wall must either be:
Your neighbour’s works
- Recording the condition of your neighbour’s property (before works begin)
- Details of the work to be carried out
- Arrangements for access to your neighbours land
- The time and manner of executing any work
If it is a party wall a procedure should be followed by your neighbour in serving the appropriate notice which contains proposals before the works are carried out. Upon receiving the notice from your neighbour, you should check its validity and reply back if you agree to the works. If you do not reply or have not provided any consent to the works, both you and your neighbour must appoint an independent party wall surveyor who will determine what work can and cannot be carried out and impose conditions, as is necessary, in providing a resolution. These conditions also include:
The surveyor will then draw up an impartial award in the form of a document, which is final. Your neighbour must comply with the award and take appropriate steps so that no detriment or damage is caused to your property. They will also be responsible for the costs and responsibility for any temporary construction necessary to protect and secure your property. Some caution must be noted as penalties cannot be imposed if works are completed before any party wall procedure has been carried out.
Are you considering undertaking renovation or building work at your home?
For example replacing an old fence with a new brick wall or building an extension. If so, you are probably excited at the prospect of seeing the finished works and may not have considered whether you could be breaking the law. After all it is your home! However, the works that you propose could be deemed unlawful by the Court unless you comply with relevant statute before you start work.
What statute should you be aware of?
- A party wall is a wall or fence which is situated along the line of junction between two properties. It may also be a wall adjoining two buildings or rooms.
- A party structure is a structure between two properties which are owned by different people. It could be for example a garage which adjoins two properties or an extension.
- If works affect a party wall and/or structure then the Party Wall etc Act 1996 (the “1996 Act”) is the relevant statutory provision that you must be aware of and comply with.
Certain types of works that you wish to undertake may affect a wall or structure also known as a “party wall” or “party structure”.
You should of course also ensure that you obtain planning permission from your local authority if necessary.
If you own your home, the 1996 Act refers to you as a building owner. As a building owner, you have a duty to notify your neighbour(s) of works that you intend to undertake if those works are likely to affect their property/land.
If the person living next door owns their property, under the 1996 Act they are referred to as an adjoining owner. After receipt of your notice to undertake works, the adjoining owner will have a specified period of time in which to respond. If your neighbour has let their property, you must ensure that you communicate with the actual owner rather than the tenant.
How to comply with the 1996 Act?
- A building owner will typically appoint a surveyor to advise in respect of the proposed works and to help them indentify the correct notice. Thereafter, the notice must be given to the adjoining owner.
- The building owner must wait one or two months, depending upon the notice, before they can start the proposed works or until the parties have reached an agreement.
- An adjoining owner may appoint his/her own surveyor to negotiate on their behalf.
- Once the works have been agreed, the parties will seek to detail their agreement in a Party Wall Award.
- Sometimes, a building owner and adjoining owner may find it difficult to reach an agreement and in such circumstances the parties may appoint a third surveyor to adjudicate and draw up a final Award.
Unfortunately, the 1996 Act is complicated and it is known for its ambiguity. If you find yourself in a situation where yours and your neighbour’s surveyors do not agree or you do not agree with the findings of the third surveyor, it would be prudent to instruct a solicitor as a matter of urgency as there are strict guidelines and timescales which must be complied with.
If you are an adjoining owner and your neighbour has commenced works without serving you with notice or allowing you sufficient time to respond, you may need to seek urgent assistance from the Court, especially if there is a real risk of serious damage to your home.