Material Shortages and the Party Wall Act

Friday, 25th June 2021 | by: Justin Burns

We’ve been hearing about building material shortages anecdotally for a few months now but more recently reports have filtered through to the national media. The cause of the shortages seems to be a combination of Brexit, the pandemic and the recent blockage in the Suez Canal.  The supply problems come at a time when there is strong demand for residential extensions as owners adapt to what looks like being a permanent shift to greater homeworking.  What impact do these issues have on party wall procedures?

A key principle of the Act is that the works must not cause unnecessary inconvenience – section 7(1) sates that …

A building owner shall not exercise any right conferred on him by this Act in such a manner or at such time as to cause unnecessary inconvenience to any adjoining owner or to any adjoining occupier.

If a building project, such as a rear extension, which should have taken 3 months to complete now take 6 months due to material shortages have the adjoining owners suffered unnecessary inconvenience? Well, that depends. If the building owner exercised their right of access and sectioned off a strip of the adjoining owner’s garden to facilitate the works only to realise that there was going to be a delay due to material shortages, I would say that does constitute unnecessary inconvenience to the adjoining owner.

If a project has been well planned the materials will have been ordered some time in advance to avoid such delays. If a delay is unavoidable, such as a materials delivery being cancelled at short notice, the building owner should take measures to mitigate any inconvenience caused to the adjoining owner. This will likely mean dismantling the protective hoarding that they have erected and giving the adjoining owner back the use of their garden until the works are ready to proceed. A building owner is expected to provide 14 days’ notice of access in writing – a new notice period applies to each period of access although this can be shortened by agreement and adjoining owners are generally very accommodating.

When existing structures are altered under the Act, such as raising a party wall, materials that match the existing should be used unless there’s a good reason not to e.g. when raising a party wall to a Victorian terraced house the builder would it be expected to source matching second hand London Stock bricks. There will also generally be a planning condition to similar effect. If the bricks required cannot be sourced then the works must wait until they can. As outlined above, it would be unacceptable for a building owner to erect a scaffold over the adjoining owner’s property only for there to be a delay of several weeks while materials are sourced.

Historically there has always been a clause included within party wall awards that requires the works to commence by a particular date. This clause was omitted from the latest RICS template award although many surveyors have reinstated it as it’s a sensible condition. Prior to works covered by the Act commencing, the surveyors will generally record the condition of the adjoining owner’s property so that there’s a reference point if damage is claimed by the adjoining owner either during or following the works. Schedules of condition are a snapshot on a particular day and are therefore time sensitive.

Unlike party wall notices, which the Act confirms have a lifespan of 12 months (although that can be ignored if the surveyors are still actively resolving the dispute), it is for the surveyors to agree the time within which works must commence following service of the award. Historically, that has been 12 months but there’s nothing to stop the surveyors from extending it to 15 or 18 months if they consider it appropriate. It is better that the works are delayed then started only to stall within a few weeks due to material shortages.

If you require some advice with the party wall matter please feel free to contact us on 020 7183 2578 or via email.

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