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The Party Wall Act – Common Misunderstandings

Wednesday, 5th August 2009 | by: Peter Barry

The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 has been with us for thirteen years but it is still clear that the public has, at best, a tenuous grip on its details. I have outlined a few of the most common misunderstandings below.

1. My extension will be on my own land so the Act does not apply.

Section 6 of the Party Wall Act covers adjacent excavations. In practical terms that means that even if you are digging within your own boundaries the Act recognises that there is a potential risk to your neighbour’s foundations. To come within the scope of the Act you have to be excavating within 3 metres of your neighbour’s foundations and below their base (this is extended to 6 metres if your foundations are particularly deep – such as piled foundations).

2. My neighbour has consented so I don’t have to serve a Party Wall Notice.

Consent cannot be given under the Act until notice is served. Even if your neighbour has indicated that they will consent you should still serve the notice – they will then have 14 days in which to confirm their consent in writing. This will ensure that the adjoining owners rights are unaffected if damage occurs and they wish to appoint a surveyor later in the process.

3. The best way to deal with a neighbour that has gone ahead with their work without serving notice is to produce a retrospective award.

The Party wall Act makes no reference to retrospective notices or awards. In previous cases it has been shown that work can be authorised retrospectively but only if the surveyors feel that it is capable of being authorised – that won’t be the case if it has cuased damage. If a neighbour has already completed the notifiable part of their work it will be a matter of dealing with any consequences – such as damage to the adjoining owner’s property. If the neighbours cannot agree it will have to be settled in court.

4. An Adjoining Owner can stop their neighbour from encroaching over the boundary with their foundations.

A Building Owner can build right up to the boundary line and project their footings beyond it but must serve the appropriate notice first. Whenever I tell an adjoining owner this their next question is always “What if I want to build an extension in the future?”

If they were to build a similar extension in the future they would have the right to cut off the part of their neigbour’s foundations that project – subject to serving the appropriate notice again.
In situations such as this it is best for the neighbours to reach agreement to build a single wall astride the boundary and use it as a party wall between the extensions – although that is easier said than done.

5. An Adjoining Owner can refuse their neighbour access to carry out their works.

Section 8 of the Party Wall Act deals with access. Depending upon the nature of the work access is permitted subject to a 14 day notice period. It must be shown that there is provision for access under the Act (it only applies to certain kinds of work) and that it is necessary but if the answer to both questions is ‘Yes’ then it must be granted.

A Building Owner wishing to enforce their right of access over a non-compliant neighbour need not bother with court. In one of the more colourful sections of the Act the Building Owner is given the right to “break open any fences or doors in order to enter the premises… if accompanied by a constable or other police officer”.

6. My neighbour didn’t reply to my notice so I am free to start work.

The 14 day period referred to in Section 5 of the Act is the time in which the adjoining owner has to consent. If they do not consent by the end of the 14 day period they are deemed to have dissented and must appoint a party wall surveyor. If they fail to appoint a surveyor after a further reminder the Building Owner must appoint somebody on their behalf.