How to do DIY

The Party Wall etc. Act 1996

The Party Wall Act has now been with us now for over 15 years but is still all too often overlooked by Building Owners planning to carry out work which may affect their neighbour's property. As well as setting out the rights and obligations of the respective owners the Act lays down a standard procedure to be followed by the parties.

Three categories of work within the scope of the act

The first, and the one which most people are aware of, is any work that directly affects a party wall. This will include the insertion beams and the removal of chimney breasts but also more minor work such as cutting in flashings. Very minor works such as drilling small holes for fixings, inserting recessed cables or sockets and re-plastering are not covered.

The second, and most overlooked, category of work is adjacent excavations. Depending upon the depth of the foundations this can extend to within six metres of a neighbour's property. Situations where this part of the Act will be invoked include excavations for foundations and basement conversions.

The final category of work with which the Act is concerned is the construction of new walls up to or astride the boundary. Unless a neighbour gives their consent new boundary walls must be on a Building Owner's own land although if it is necessary the foundations can project over the boundary.

Before a Building Owner can commence work covered by any of the three categories a Party Wall Notice must be served. There are different notices depending upon the type of work and the notice periods vary between one and two months.

Upon receipt of a notice a neighbour (known as an ‘Adjoining Owner’) will be presented with three choices:

  • To consent to the proposals – consent from an Adjoining Owner generally means that work can commence immediately.
  • To dissent and concur in the Building Owner’s choice of surveyor as ‘Agreed’
  • To dissent and appoint a surveyor of their choice

If the Adjoining Owner chooses to consent they should confirm this within 14 days as after that point a ‘dispute’ is deemed to have arisen under the Act and the two parties must appoint surveyors, or concur in the appointment of a single surveyor, to resolve that dispute.

A common misconception is that a failure to reply by the Adjoining Owner means the Building Owner can start work at the end of the notice period. In fact, if the Adjoining Owner ignores the original notice the Building Owner must send a follow-up letter stating that the owners are ‘in dispute’ and must appoint surveyors. If the adjoining owner remains silent for a further 10 days the Building Owner gains the right to make an appointment on their behalf.

Once surveyors have been appointed they start discussing the terms of the Party Wall Agreement (known as an ‘Award’). The Award is a legal document which sets out the rights and responsibilities of the respective owners. It will cover areas such as working hours, necessary safeguards and what happens if some damage occurs to the Adjoining Owner’s property. The Award will also contain a record of the condition of the Adjoining Owner’s property before any work starts as this may be needed later as evidence.

When the surveyors have agreed on the contents of the award it must be signed and served upon the respective owners without delay. There is a fourteen day appeal period if either owner believes that the award has been improperly drawn up so if work commences within that time it is at the Building Owner’s risk. In all normal circumstances surveyors’ fees are paid by the Building Owner.

If all goes well the surveyors will not return until the works are complete when they will check the Adjoining Owner’s property against the original Schedule of Condition. Damage will normally be repaired by the Building Owner’s contractor although the Adjoining Owner also has the option of asking the surveyors to agree a payment in lieu.

Author Bio - Justin Burns MRICS of Peter Barry Party Wall Surveyors

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