Over the course of owning a property, you may experience receiving a notice for a party wall award or be required to serve one. Whether it is for loft conversion or a rear extension, or more substantial basement works, the question for many homeowners will always be if they have not experienced this before is what does this notice mean exactly in terms of my rights and obligations? Moreover, what is this ‘Party Wall Award’ or ‘Agreement’ that we are expected to be a part of?
Notifiable works under the relevant sections of the act (such as excavating within 3 metres of a neighbouring foundation) will require a notice, and by serving such notice in effect invokes the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. Once the act has been invoked, an Adjoining Owner (one who has had a notice served upon them) may consent or dissent. Dissenting to a notice will require a party wall agreement to be drafted up, either by an agreed surveyor or two surveyors.
More information on the process can be found here: https://www.prinsegate.com/party-wall-surveyor/
A party wall award is a legally binding agreement that can be used in court. It contains all the relevant details from the building owners and adjoining owners and surveyors involved, the type of works and a description of the works, and relevant sections of the Act that apply to the works. This should also include all relevant plans and engineer’s drawings/calculations, ground investigation reports, and method statements for more tricky areas, which set out exactly how the works are to be carried out.
This documentation helps keep the adjoining owner informed of exactly what is occurring next door and also what is permitted under the Act (e.g. where the foundations are proposed to lie).
An important part of this process is that once an award is drafted, there can be no deviation from the notifiable works without written permission from the owners or surveyors. If deviations from the plans and notifiable works are made, this can be then brought to the attention of the Building Owner to rectify, preventing a contractor from potentially carrying out illegal works.
If a dispute would occur between the Building Owner and Adjoining Owner, before or after the award has been served, they would then bring this to the surveyor who would have an impartial quasi-judicial role in resolving the dispute.
The surveyor would inspect the property and reason with what has occurred within the framework of the party wall agreement. Usually, these issues can be resolved before anything ends up in the courts via this method. A lot of the time, issues such as illegal works are covered under common law; however, party wall agreements have a function of preventing potential disputes from getting resolved in courts.
The party wall agreement also sets out the Building Owners obligations, such as providing support to retain the neighbouring land and buildings. This will include protection measures against minor issues that are no doubt going to occur, such as dust and debris resulting from the works. The building owner will be held responsible to keep the neighbouring property free from any such nuisances.
The award will set out that the Building Owner is held responsible for any damages occurring as a result of the notifiable works.
In an ideal world, if damages occur to a neighbouring property, the Adjoining Owner can communicate this to the Building Owner to achieve resolve. However, disagreements can happen, and it is not always clear cut. A party wall agreement includes a Schedule of Condition, which is a pre-works survey of the Adjoining Owners property. It details any existing damage and forms a part of the documents register in the award. If neighbours are in disagreement about damages, they can then refer to the surveyor(s) to award damages, where they have a statutory duty to be impartial.
There are many more elements that make up an award. Feel free to give our party wall surveyors based in Surrey and across London a call for any free advice regarding the Party Wall Act.