If you live in a semi-detached or terrace house, then you share a wall (or walls) with your neighbour. That wall is known as 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 used by both properties is a party wall; the rest belongs to the person or persons on whose land it stands.
Since the Party Wall Act 1996 came into force, homeowners in England and Wales have had 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, while at the same time protecting the interests of anyone else who might be affected by that work.
This legislation is designed to avoid or minimize disputes by making sure property owners notify their neighbours in advance of certain proposed works.
The Act requires that where the adjoining owner does not ‘agree’ in writing to the works, a surveyor (or surveyors) will determine the time and manner in which those works are carried out.
So, what do you need to know before jumping into that big renovation you’ve been planning?
Let’s find out.
1. Allow Plenty of Time to Obtain a Party Wall Agreement
Before serving notice, talk to your neighbours about your plans so they understand what you intend to do.
You serve notice to your neighbour by writing to them, including your contact details and outline description of the works to be carried out, access requirements, and the proposed date that the work will begin.
It is best to instruct a surveyor to serve this notice. Otherwise, if the notice is invalid, then the whole procedure must start again.
In an urban environment, your project might affect several adjoining neighbours, and you will have to serve notice to each of them.
If a property is a leasehold, you will need to serve notice on both the tenant and the building’s owner. These persons are both referred to as “building owner”.
You want to serve notice at least 1-2 months before the work begins, depending on the type of notice. Your neighbour has 14 days to respond to your notice.
If they don’t agree, then it can take anything from a few weeks to a few months for the surveyors to finalize their Award.
So it’s best to consider the Party Wall agreement early in the process, rather than just before the work is about to start.
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2. A Party Wall Agreement is Separate From Planning Permission and Building Regulations
Some kinds of work carried out to a property may not be controlled by the Building Regulations but could be covered by the Party Wall Act.
A Party Wall notice is different from planning permission and building regulations. You must serve notice separately. Building Control has no involvement in the Party Wall Act.
If you do not need planning permission, you may still need to serve notice on your neighbours under the Party Wall Act if you meet the specified conditions.
The notification of a project under the Act will not impact the planning permission decision process.
It’s also important to note that reaching an agreement with your neighbour under the Act does not remove the possible need to obtain planning permission or build regulations approval.
You can learn more about notifications and awards.
3. The Party Wall Agreement Only Lasts for 12 Months
There are two opinions on how long a Party Wall Award is valid for:
- The first opinion is that the Party Wall Award is valid for 12 months from the Party Wall Notice date: this would mean that the building owner has to commence the proposed works within 12 months of the date that they serve the Party Wall Notice upon the adjoining owner.
- The second opinion is that a Party Wall Award is valid for 12 months from its service date: this would mean that the building owner has to commence the proposed works within 12 months of the Party Wall Award date.
Generally, it is the latter opinion that is considered correct.
So, it’s only worth going through the process if you plan on undertaking the work soon (unlike planning permission, which lasts for 3 years).
If the property is sold, the new building owner will have to start the party wall process again with the adjoining owner.
That adjoining owner will be free to appoint their surveyor or agree to a joint appointment of your surveyor (the “agreed surveyor”).
4. What Happens If You Don’t Serve Notice?
The undertaking of notifiable works without service of notice is considered a breach of statutory duty.
This may be actionable in the event of damages arising. The works will also be unlawful, which may cause problems if it is later intended to sell the property.
Proceeding with notifiable works without complying with the Act may also lead to problems that can delay and even stop your project.
The adjoining owner can seek a court injunction to stop the notifiable works undertaken until the Act has been complied with or may force you to remove works already undertaken.
Legal costs may then follow.
Long-term, you may have problems when you come to sell your property.
5. You’ll Want to Budget From £1000-£3000 for a Party Wall Agreement
You can serve notice yourself, and you don’t need to pay anything. Party Wall notice templates can be found here on the gov.UK page. However, there is a risk that you do not properly draft and serve the notice, which is why most appointing owners we consult prefer that we serve notice on their behalf.
Your architect or surveyor can do this for you for a fee, likely to be under £200. If your neighbour agrees in writing, then you don’t need to take any other action and no further cost, which is ideal.
If your neighbour does dissent the notice, which most neighbours do, then both of you must appoint a surveyor.
Ideally, your neighbour agrees to the same surveyor for both properties, which will keep costs down, typically costing around £100-2000 per surveyor, excluding VAT and disbursements.
For complicated projects, you should budget at least £3,000 and upwards. The total cost is very much subject to the duration and complexity of the project.
The cost will also depend on how many surveyors are appointed and their hourly rates. Fees can also vary geographically.
It is essential to budget for the party wall process within any construction project if the adjoining owner(s) dissent from the notice(s).
In instances where several adjoining owners are notified, the professional costs can rise exponentially and should be factored into the project budget accordingly.
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