When you’re carrying out works to your property in England or Wales that could potentially affect another property, it is essential that you inform all legal owners in order to gain consent. Not only is this a legal requirement, it’s also a considerate thing to do in order to keep good relationships with your neighbours and to avoid disputes. However, it’s not always guaranteed that your neighbours will consent to the works, which is where the Party Wall etc Act 1996 comes into play.
What is the Party Wall etc Act 1996?
The Party Wall etc Act 1996 was put in place to help resolve disputes around party walls, namely when a neighbouring property owner disagrees with the proposed works. When this occurs, the 1996 Act provides a solution that ensures that each affected property owner is satisfied with the proposed works in order for them to proceed. After all, many works to party walls can be a necessity, such as those required to maintain the structure of a building, so it is essential that an agreement is reached. This is aptly known as a Party Wall Agreement.
What is a party wall agreement?
A Party Wall Agreement otherwise known as a Party Wall Award, is a document produced by surveyors that resolves the party wall dispute. The agreement will contain instructions for how the proposed works should be carried out, a ‘schedule of condition’ depicting the current condition of the adjoining property, drawings of the proposed works, and basic information such as a description of the works, rights of access, working hours, addresses of the properties, names of the property owners and the surveyors involved.
In order to produce a party wall agreement, both the person wishing to undertake the works and the affected party will need to appoint their own surveyor. In cases where the two surveyors cannot agree on a particular matter, a third surveyor adjudicates. However, the two parties can use the same surveyor if they both agree to it, in which case a third surveyor would not be required. Of course, the appointed surveyor would have to be impartial to ensure a fair outcome.
The person wishing to undertake the works will be responsible for paying for all of the surveyor’s fees, including those of the surveyor appointed by your neighbour. Therefore, obtaining a party wall agreement can be more costly if you do not agree to use the same surveyor. Once the party wall agreement / award has been served to the property owners, the works can commence on the agreed date or within a specified timeframe, stated in the agreement.
The Party Wall Act provides a 14 day right of appeal for property owners who are not satisfied with any of the terms set out in the agreement. However, the Act does not require this time to pass before the works can progress, although this could be a risky move if an appeal is raised.
So, what is a party wall and what might these works include?
Essentially, a party wall is a wall that is shared with a neighbour, such as a partition wall between two flats or terraced houses. Party walls can also include garden walls built over a boundary but not fences. Furthermore, any excavations taking place roughly within three to six metres of a neighbouring property will also be deemed party wall works.
Examples of party wall works include:
- Digging new or into foundations
- Building extensions
- Loft conversions
- Inserting damp proof courses
- Removing chimney breasts
- Inserting beams or pad stones into ceilings
As highlighted above, you will need to inform your neighbour should you wish to carry out any party wall works. While it’s best to have an informal and friendly conversation to discuss the works in the first instance, a formal Party Wall Notice will need to be served to start the process. There are three different notices that can be used for party walls, depending on the nature of the works, these include:
- A Party Structure Notice – for works which concern existing party structures such as party walls, floors and partitions (that separate buildings or parts of buildings), party fence walls (essentially a boundary wall between lands in separate ownership which is built astride a boundary), and in some instances, a neighbour’s independent property. This notice is served under Section 2 of the Act and must provide a notice period of two months.
- Notice of Adjacent Excavation – for removing earth to form a cavity in the ground i.e. for building foundations. This notice is served under Section 6 of the Act, which must provide a notice period of one month.
- A Line of Junction Notice – for building extensions to your property either adjacent to a boundary or astride a boundary. This notice is served under Section 1 of the Act and is the least common of the three notices. A notice period of one month must be given.
These notices must contain the following basic information:
- The date of the notice
- The name and address of the building owner
- The address of the property being worked on
- The name and address of the adjoining owners and their properties
- The nature and particulars of the proposed work
- The date on which the proposed work will begin, relative to the notice period
- An advisory note explaining what happens if the recipient actively dissents from the works or fails to respond within 14 days
Although template notices are available online, it is advisable to appoint a surveyor to prepare the notices to ensure that the correct one is served and with the required information. If you fail to serve the notices correctly, this can lead to a delay in the works proceeding. A surveyor will also be able to identify who the notices should be served on, so, the benefits gained likely outweigh the cost.
Who needs to be notified about Party Wall works?
Legally, the ‘adjoining owners’ are anyone who owns or occupies the neighbouring property affected by the party walls works with an interest greater than a one-year tenancy. This information should be available to view on the Land Registry website. You will need to notify every single owner of the affected properties, which may mean serving multiple notices. Affected properties are typically directly attached to or part of the building undergoing the works or properties within three to six metres of excavations.
If the adjacent property is a block of flats or a converted building containing flats, you may need to notify quite a few people within that building. However, you only have to serve notice on flat owners who are directly affected by the party wall works i.e. they share the same wall or floor. You also have to bear in mind that a building containing flats will most likely have a freeholder, who as a legal owner of the building will also require a notice.
This can, unfortunately, make the process slightly more complicated, costly and lengthy particularly if any of the owners dissent the notice. However, in some cases, the leaseholders may actually own a share of the freehold, and you should consider the service of a notice to include both freeholder and leaseholder.
When examining proprietorship information on Land Registry, it is important to look at any leases pertaining to leasehold flats or houses. The lease will tell you whether the owner has a lease term of more than one year and whether they have any excepted rights or covenants related to party walls. Leases can be complicated documents to understand, so appointing an experienced surveyor to assist you may again add value. They could even discover that your particular works are not notifiable under the act, saving you a great deal of time and money.
Gaining consent for party wall works
Once the correct notice has been served, the affected property owner will have 14 days to respond with either assent or dissent.
Assent to party wall works
If your neighbour gives assent to the party wall works, which they will have to do so in writing, this essentially means that they consent to the works proceeding. Assent is given provided that the property owner carrying out the works, rectifies any damage or defective works. Therefore, you will not need to attain a party wall agreement prepared by a surveyor and your costs will thus be lower.
However, it is strongly advisable to assess the current condition of the neighbouring property, taking dated photos where possible, and for both parties to sign an agreement to that effect. Alternatively, a surveyor could be appointed to assess the condition of the property and prepare a schedule of condition in order to mitigate disputes from arising.
Dissent to party wall works
If the neighbour dissents, it means that they do not agree to the works proceeding without a formal party wall agreement. A neighbour who has not replied within the 14-day time limit will also be classified as dissented. In which case, a surveyor or two depending on whether both parties can agree will need to be appointed to produce the agreement.
The schedule of condition
If surveyors are appointed, one of their first tasks will be to prepare a schedule of condition of the affected properties. This document will contain a detailed record of the current state of the individual properties such as damage or significant wear and tear. The accuracy of this report is crucial for preventing and resolving disputes that occur after the works have been carried out. In cases where there are two appointed surveyors, they will both need to agree to the schedule.
Party Wall etc Act 1996 timeline
Once the party wall agreement has been served by the surveyors to the property owners, the works can proceed two months and one day later. The works must have started by one year and one day later, otherwise a new agreement and schedule of condition will need to be prepared. The appointed surveyors will not be involved with the works going forward unless a dispute arises.
Consent for alterations
If you are a leaseholder undertaking works to your property, it is highly likely that you will also require a ‘licence to alter’ from the freeholder. This is typically a condition of your lease and so must be complied with to prevent a breach and subsequent legal action. The licence to alter does not supersede the requirements of the Party Wall Act although the terms of any Licence may have regard to the requirements of the Party Wall Act. However, the freeholder may agree that a separate party wall award is not required on the basis that the requirements of the Party Wall Act can be included in the licence. So, it’s a good idea to open up the lines of communication with your freeholder to see where you stand on the matter.
With party wall agreements, just like many other property matters, it is highly advisable to consult a professional to minimise the likelihood of delays and disputes. They will also help to simplify the process and allow you more time to plan the proposed works. Ensure that you factor in the time scales required by the Party Wall etc Act 1996 when planning your works.
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