It’s essential that the time periods relating to party wall procedures are followed to the letter as they are taken directly from the Act and many of those time periods relate to the service of and response to notices.
The first point to clarify is when the time periods run from as it’s not obvious. Regardless of the date that is entered on the notice, it will be deemed as having been served when it is received or when it should have been received by the adjoining owner (or when it was available to view if attached to the property). With the most common method of service, first class post, that will be 2 days after it was consigned to the post or on the same day if it has been delivered by hand.
The next time period relates to a deemed dissent to the notice(s). Party wall procedures are designed so that they do not stall if notices are not responded to but, on the other hand, it would not be fair on an adjoining owner if their interests were ignored because they did not respond to a notice (often for perfectly legitimate reasons). The solution is a deemed dissent 14 days after a notice has been served.
Deemed dissents only apply to notices served in relation to works covered by section 2 (works directly affecting a party structure) and section 6 (adjacent excavation) of the Act. With notices served in relation to works covered by section 1 of the Act (new walls at the boundary) the opposite applies; there is a deemed consent 1 month after it has been served (this does not override the requirement to obtain and adjoining owner’s express consent to construct a new party wall so if there is a deemed consent the wall will have to be moved on to the building owner’s own land).
Where a deemed consent occurs a ‘dispute’ arises and the dispute resolution procedures set out in section 10 of the Act are triggered i.e. each of the parties must appoint a surveyor to resolve the dispute. You may ask how an adjoining owner can be made to appoint a surveyor when they’ve not responded to the notice but, of course, that scenario is anticipated in the Act.
Following a deemed dissent, the building owner must write to the adjoining owner again (same rules apply regarding the service of this letter) requesting their surveyor’s details and explaining that if they are not provided within 10 further days a surveyor will be appointed on their behalf (it’s not possible to have an Agreed Surveyor in this scenario as the silent party will not have agreed to such). I’ll look at the appointment of surveyors under section 10(4) of the Act in a future post but I wanted to finish by clarifying another point that is sometimes misunderstood; an adjoining owner can still consent to a notice following a deemed dissent and, if I were a building owner, I would be doing everything possible during that period (knocking on doors, sending messages via tenants/agents etc.) to make contact and avoid a potentially unnecessary award.
If you’re about to embark on works covered by the Act, you’re welcome to call us on 020 8546 7211 for some free advice or drop us an email.