London has been the subject of Party Wall Legislation for a considerable period of time with specific legislation dating from the Great Fire of London in 1666! The extent of rebuilding required after the Great Fire was enormous. Building owners needed to cut in to neighbouring buildings for support in order to rebuild and so the first legislation was passed.
In more recent years, there has been a proliferation of construction work around the country as building owners seek to extend their properties to the full width of the plots to gain maximum frontage. This immediately raises party wall issues in most cases. The full Act was passed in 1996.
This is not always straight forward. One has to establish the properties boundaries in order to decide whether a wall is a party wall, a party fence wall, or a party structure. Boundary determination is difficult, see our separate guidance in respect of it.
The most common type of party wall is a wall that forms part of the building owner’s building and stands on a boundary. A terrace or semi-detached house will frequently have a party wall between them.So for example, a proposed loft conversion or rear infill extension which ties in to the dividing wall will almost always need a Party Wall Award.
Building works can cause damage to an adjoining owner especially if they involve excavations. Nearly every basement extension in a built up area is likely to be covered by the Act. Properties on a hill where ground levels differ cause particular problems. The subject of retaining walls is a separate subject entirely but there is considerable overlap with the party wall legislation.
A building owner must give all adjoining owners Notice of Proposed works that are covered by the Act. The adjoining owners cannot stop the works but they can influence how it is done so as to safeguard their property and minimising inconvenience. This is effected by a Party Wall Award.
Planning permission is a completely separate issue. The obligation to comply with the Act stands alone.
The best advice is that a building owner should seek appropriate assistance from a surveyor specialising in there matters before starting works on or near a boundary.
If an adjoining owner consents to works and does not seek his own surveyor to be appointed, consent must be in writing. Oral consent is not sufficient (Seef v Hoe).
Unauthorised party wall works cannot be authorised retrospectively.
A Party Wall Award will cover all matters including:
An award is final and can only be overturned by appealing to the County Court within 14 days of service.
A dispute may arise where a building owner’s works are “causing unnecessary inconvenience” and compensation can be awarded.
The rights and obligations imposed by a Party Wall Award are attached to the properties not the individuals and so subsequent buyers of the properties take on the benefit and burden of those awards. So for example, if the building owner has created a basement and works have all been completed, it could be that the adjoining owner begins to suffer subsidence some years after completion of the works. If such subsidence was being caused by the basement excavation, the owners of the building owner property would be liable to rectify the damage and pay compensation pursuant to the Party Wall Award.
If you are planning a building project and need advice on the Party Wall Act please contact our specialist Property Litigation Team for further advice. It is advisable to discuss this matter at the earliest possible opportunity and before instructing any building works to take place.
If you are a neighbour objecting to any proposed building works or are suffering from any existing building works subject to the Party Wall Act we can also advise on your best course of action.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.