If you or an adjoining property owner have ever undertaken work on a property near or on the boundary line, you may already be familiar with the process under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (“the Act”). In most cases, the works carried out near the boundary proceed without issue. For those who are not aware, the information below will shed some light on this topic, chiefly, the general process, as to what ‘work’ and ‘walls’ the Act applies to and what happens if there is a dispute.
The purpose of the Act is to provide a procedure to follow before any work commences at the property. If, therefore, a property owner has already started work and you think that there may have been a contravention of the Act, you should seek legal advice on your specific circumstances immediately.
What is a ‘Party Wall’?
The term ‘Party Wall’ under the Act includes;
- A Party Wall
- A Party Fence; and
- A Party Structure.
There are two ‘types’ of wall which will be considered a Party Wall.
Type A Party Wall is where the wall forms part of the building owner’s building and stands on the boundary line between the building owner’s land and the adjoining owner’s land. The wall itself may be shared between the two buildings, or it may only be attached to the Building Owner’s building, but situated on the boundary line.
Type B Party Wall is where the wall is wholly on the building owner’s land (not on the boundary line) and the adjoining owner’s land has a building which also ‘uses’ that wall.
The extent of the footings and/or foundations are irrelevant for the purposes of determining a Party Wall.
This is a misleading term as it does not actually include fences.
A Party Fence is a wall that stands on its own, i.e no buildings are attached to it, but it stands on the boundary. One example of this is a garden wall.
This is essentially a ‘catch all’ provision to include all remaining shared structures that are not physical walls, for example, floors and ceilings between flats.
What ‘work’ does the Act cover?
In brief, if a building owner proposing to:
- Carry out work to an existing Party Wall/Fence/Structure; or
- Build a new Party Wall/Fence/Structure (on or adjacent to the Boundary); or
- Undertake building or excavation works within 3 or 6 metres of the adjourning owner’s walls or building; or
- Build special foundations or foundations on the Adjoining Owner’s land
Then you should take legal advice before commencing those works, as it is likely such works will fall under the provisions of the Act.
What do I have to do to comply with the Party Wall Act?
Compliance with the Act is complex and technical. However, broadly the process begins by the building owner serving notice of any adjoining owners. The notice to be provided by the building owner will largely depend on the work that is being undertaken. You should therefore ensure that you take specific legal advice (or advice from a specialist party wall surveyor) on your position if you think you, or your neighbour, needs to comply with the Act.
In brief, the general process is as follows:
– The building owner must give notice of the proposed works to the adjoining owner(s). In reality, you may well have already spoken with your neighbour informally but you are required to give notice.
– The adjoining owner can then:
- Serve a counter notice if they require (permitting) changes to the proposed works; or
- Give consent; or
- Refuse consent; or
- Do nothing.
– Depending the adjoining owner’s response, a ‘deemed dispute’ may arise.
At this point, the parties will be required to instruct a Party Wall Surveyor. This can either be on a joint basis, or each party may instruct their own Party Wall Surveyor.
The surveyor, or if two of them then they will jointly, make an award having considered the matter. This award is binding on all parties but it is possible to appeal to the county court within 14 days of the award being served on the parties.
What if damage has been caused?
Irrespective of whether the adjoining owner consented to the works or not, if damage has been caused to their property, as a result of the works, then they retain the right to seek compensation under the Act from the building owner.
How much is this likely to cost? Who pays them?
We will provide you with an estimate of costs at the outset depending on your specific situation.
Our lawyers have extensive experience in advising clients who require Party Wall advice and we will be able to provide you with bespoke and cost effective advice tailored to your circumstances.
In potentially recovering those costs, the Act permits the Party Wall surveyor (or both of them) to make some financial awards, including:
- Compensation for any damage caused;
- Payment of expenses; and
- Payment of their own fees
Legal costs may be covered and awarded under the Act but only if they relate to the dispute.
I think my neighbour is doing work that should be covered by the Act but they have not complied with it – what can i do?
It will depend on your specific case and the extent of the non-compliance as to what remedies you may have available to you. For example, the building owner may have wholly failed to comply with the Act, or perhaps notice was given for certain work, but the building owner is carrying out different work to that which the notice covered.
If the building owner fails to comply with the Act entirely, and it is indeed work covered under the Act, then the work that has been undertaken may amount to ‘Trespass’ and/or ‘Nuisance’, as well as a breach of statutory duties. You would be within your rights to take legal action by way of Court proceedings for these breaches and damage that has occurred and the building owner will lose any rights and protections under the Act against such claims for Trespass and/or Nuisance.
Similarly, if you have started work and have not complied with the Act, where perhaps you should have, then you are at risk of such action being taken against you as well.
Dealing with Party Wall disputes can be difficult in having to navigate your way around the specific statute, interpretations and strict time limits, whilst living next door to the issue. It is important that you obtain specialist advice, first and foremost on whether the Act applies to your situation, to then ascertain your position, obligations and rights. There can be serious consequences if either party fails to do what they are meant to do.