Party Wall

PARTY WALL etc. ACT 1996: WHAT IS A PARTY WALL?
Party walls are the dividing wall between two or more houses. Floors between flats are known as ‘party structures’ and boundary walls ‘party fence walls’. For example a wall that is shared by more than one owner.

The Government introduced a new law for England and Wales in 1997 called ‘The party wall etc. Act 1996’, to regulate building works to these types of walls, as well as neighbouring excavation works.

The Act imposes rights and obligation on land owners wishing to conduct such works, but also imposes rights and obligations on occupiers and land owners who will be effected by the works.

DO YOU INTEND TO CARRY OUT WORK WHICH INVOLVES:

  • Work on an existing wall, ceiling or floor structure shared with another property?
  • Building on or at the boundary with another property?
  • Excavating near a neighbouring building or structure?

The following guidelines are laid out by The Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors (www.fpws.org.uk)

WHAT BUILDINGS ARE COVERED BY THE ACT?
All types of buildings are covered – residential; commercial and industrial. If you share a party wall, party structure or a party fence wall with another person you may be governed by the provisions of this Act if you or your neighbours carry out works to the structure.

WHAT KIND OF BUILDING WORK IS COVERED BY THE ACT?
Most work of a structural nature including the following:

  • Work that affects an existing party wall such as carrying out structural repairs, underpinning or raising the wall, removal of a chimney breast, or cutting steel beams into a wall for a loft conversion, are all common examples.
  • Excavations in close proximity of another building or structure to a depth that exceeds that of the neighbour’s foundations. Excavations for foundations to support new walls or steel columns are examples.
  • Demolishing and re-building or altering a ‘party fence wall’ that is masonry garden or yard wall.

WHICH OWNERS ARE AFFECTED?
Those owners of land who wish to conduct such works (building owners) as well as the owners and certain occupiers of adjoining land or buildings (adjoining owners). There may be several owners to consider e.g. lessee or freeholder.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF THE WORK I WISH TO CARRY OUT COMES WITHIN THE ACT’S REMIT?
You are obliged to give written notice to anyone with an interest in the party wall or in nearby properties in the case of excavations. The notice should fully identify the owners who intend to have the work undertaken and describe the work proposed, providing plans and details if possible to ensure the recipient fully understands what is proposed. Work involving party walls or party structures requires two months notice, whereas for certain excavations or new walls built at the boundary, one months notice is required.

The adjoining owner(s) then have 14 days in which to reply. If they agree to the proposed work then that agreement must be in writing.

WHAT IF THE ADJOINING OWNER DOES NOT AGREE OR FAILS TO RESPOND?
If an adjoining owner expressly disagrees or does not reply to a notice within 14 days of receipt then he is deemed to have dissented and a statutory dispute arises. Adjoining owners may also serve a counter notice indicating additional work they would like included for their own benefit and at their own cost.

WHAT HAPPENS IF A DISPUTE ARISES?
Each owner must appoint a party wall surveyor to act for them individually, or agree on a single surveyor to act for both owners. Where two surveyors are appointed to act for each owner individually, the two surveyors have to select another surveyor, the third surveyor. If required, the third surveyor acts as a point of reference for the owners or the other two surveyors.

In this context a surveyor means anyone other than the owners themselves, but a suitably experienced person, such as a construction professional with knowledge of the requirements of the Act is preferable. For example, he or she could be a structural engineer or architect with specialist knowledge of party wall matters, as well as a building surveyor.

WHAT ARE THE DUTIES OF PARTY WALL SURVEYORS?
The surveyors act in a similar, though not identical manner to arbitrators, and therefore must produce an ‘award’. An award regulates the way in which the works are to be conducted as well as dealing with any other related incidental matters such as costs and compensation. The ward is a legally binding document. Accordingly, the surveyors should provide a service that for the most part is impartial. Whilst they should be receptive to their appointing owner’s wishes, the usual relationship between client and professional advisor does not apply. A party wall surveyor’s remit is strictly limited to those matters governed by the Act. Consequently, their primary duty is to ensure that the Act’s requirements are administrated properly, efficiently, and fairly. Once an award has been produced, the surveyor may choose to inspect the works during their course to see they are being properly carried out, and / or at their completion check for any damage to the adjoining owner’s property.

Failure to comply with this legislation may result in the works being unlawful.

WHO CAN ACT AS A SURVEYOR IN PARTY WALL CASES?
It is clearly advantageous to appoint a person with the requisite technical skills and experience of administering the legislation. Where the works relate to specialist or technically complex building the party wall surveyor himself, where necessary, may engage the assistance of a consultant, for example an engineer.

Members of The Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors (FPWS) have specialist training in the application and administration of the legislation.