In London, our high-density housing means that party wall issues are commonplace but there are set measures in place to enable adjoining homeowners to fully enjoy their property without undue disruption.
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding party walls and procedures under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, as well as guidance on the issues we most often help our clients with. If your particular problem isn’t covered below, feel free to contact us for specific advice.
Before undertaking any major renovations or construction that affects a party wall or adjoining structure an owner must seek consent from the adjoining owner(s). If the owner conducting the work has not sought consent, they are acting outside of the law and you may have to take action to stop them.
The process involves applying for an injunction from the County Court. A judge will listen to your case and you will likely be required to provide a cross-undertaking in costs – meaning that if your neighbour is not actually conducting illegal works, you will be liable for any costs incurred as a result of the injunction. It’s therefore wise to take legal advice before applying for an injunction.
Yes. If you have not gained consent from any affected adjoining owners, or been through the Act’s dispute resolution procedure, your work has been conducted outside of the law and you could be penalised for it.
If you are only part way through your works do not continue until you have served notice to cover the remaining work and followed procedures under the Act. Any dissents to the notices must be dealt with by surveyors appointed under Section 10 of the Party Wall Act.
The Act covers three types of work:
• Building along the boundary between two properties
• Excavating within prescribed distances of shared or adjoining structures
• Altering a party structure
Notifiable works include cutting into the walls dividing terraced houses to insert beams as part of a loft conversion, excavating within three metres of the neighbour’s property to construct the foundations to an extension and constructing the flank wall of an extension at the boundary.
Unfortunately, as an adjoining owner or occupier, you are expected to tolerate “reasonable disturbance”. However, your neighbour also has a responsibility to conduct their alterations without causing unnecessary inconvenience.
If you suffer a quantifiable loss as a result of works covered by the Party Wall Act you will be eligible for compensation (for example, if you operate a business and customers can no longer enter your premises).
Otherwise, your neighbour must still adhere to normal health and safety legislation, as well as environmental protection laws, such as keeping noise and vibrations within local limits and working within time restrictions.
The Party Wall Act does require you to grant your neighbour access to your land if their construction work cannot be completed any other way and they provide you with the required notice. This is normally considered to be 14 days, but if an urgent matter occurs (such as a burst pipe), this notice can be reduced proportionately to the nature of the emergency. Access must be ‘necessary’ so if there as an alternative way for your neighbour to undertake the works, even if it is slightly more expensive, that’s what they should do.
Appointed surveyors will prepare a schedule of condition covering the ‘at risk’ parts of the adjoining property before any construction work begins and such is strongly recommended. In the event that damage occurs as a result of the work, a schedule of condition will protect both parties from unfair or misleading claims made by the other party. The document provides proof of the property’s condition prior to work so that it can be properly restored in case of damage occurring.
Surveyors will also prepare a party wall award to regulate the time and manner of works cover by the Act. The award will cover important aspects such as working hours, access and safeguards to reduce the risk of damage occurring.
No, or at least not the part of the works that are covered by the Act. While it can be tempting to start work before the award has been agreed and served, doing so would be unlawful.
If an adjoining property is damaged as a result of works covered by the Act the owner can either allow the building owner’s contractor to make good or request a payment in lieu. Any disputes over the cause of the damage or the cost of making good must be resolved by the appointed surveyor(s) and will generally be confirmed in a further award.
The award will include a timescale within which the payment in lieu must be made. Should a payment that has been confirmed in an award not be made the parties can take enforcement action in the Magistrate’s Court.