A party wall is a wall which usually separates buildings belonging to different owners, but they could also include garden walls built on a boundary, known as party fence walls. Such walls are governed by the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (the Act).
The Act also covers excavations close to a neighbour’s property.
The part of the Act that is often most relevant, especially in relation to extensions, is where it applies to the excavation of foundations close to neighbouring buildings or garden boundary walls.
In order to be governed by the Act, the excavation normally needs to be within a critical distance of three meters from the adjoining property and the excavation is deeper than their existing foundations. Where deeper foundations are used, then a party wall notice may be due on anyone living within six meters of the excavations.
Alternatively, and irrespective of whether there are excavation works involved, a party wall agreement is needed if you plan to carry out any building works within 3 meters of or on a party wall.
Party wall agreements are usually needed for building works carried out to party walls that involve for example loft conversions, underpinning, making a party wall thicker or taller, and digging of new foundations. Minor works on the party wall such as plastering, electrical work or drilling of internal walls to fit kitchen units or shelving etc. do not usually require a party wall agreement.
The Act confirms that the ‘Building Owner’ will be the person who wishes to carry out works covered by the Act, and therefore it is the Building Owner who will need to serve the party wall notice. Someone who receives notification of proposed adjacent work will be the ‘Adjoining Owner’.
The process to reach a party wall agreement will be started by the Building Owner providing the Adjoining Owner with a party wall notice and through negotiations, they can agree to a party wall agreement.
A party wall notice needs to give at least two months’ notice, ideally even 2-12 months, in advance of the proposed works. Discussing the proposed works before serving a notice may be worthwhile in order to provide the Adjoining Owner reassurance and possibly mitigate any disputes that may arise out of serving a notice.
Planning permission is not needed to serve a party wall notice although works carried out may require building regulations alongside a party wall agreement. Once a party wall notice is served, the Building Owner is obliged to pay for the Adjoining Owner to have their own party wall surveyor.
Although having a party wall agreement and serving a party wall notice is not a legal requirement, not doing so risks having to pay damages and Courts could order the Building Owner to pay for the Adjoining Owner’s repairs. More importantly, the Adjoining Owner could take civil action against the Building Owner and have an injunction issued to prevent any further work taking place until a party wall agreement is arranged. This will delay the project and could increase costs.
Once a party wall notice is served, the Adjoining Owner has 14 days to respond to the notice. Where an Adjoining Owner consents to the proposed works by the Building Owners, a party wall agreement could be entered. However, where the Adjoining Owner either refuses consent or fails to respond to the notice, this will count as a dispute and what is known as a party wall ‘award’ is required.
A party wall award is a party wall agreement reached after the involvement of a surveyor and/or solicitors and where parties are not in agreement.
The award will be drawn up by the surveyor/s appointed and it will set out the rights and obligation of all parties involved, including details of what works will be carried out, hours of construction and who will pay for the works. It will also contain details of the condition of the walls. The award can then be agreed and signed by surveyors and parties involved.
Even if an award is drawn up, where a Building Owner does not agree, they can appeal against the award at a county court within 14 days of receiving it.
The origin of the Act can be traced back to 1666 when the Great Fire of London occurred and resulted in the destruction of 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, The Royal Exchange, Guildhall and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The London Building Act of 1667 and subsequent legislations were introduced to help restrict the spread of fire between adjacent properties by regulating the construction, alteration, and demolition of party walls between those adjoining properties. The issue however was that the provisions of these acts only applied to the inner London boroughs and the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 was introduced by a way of consolidating and extending the acts to the whole country.
For more information please contact our Residential Property Litigation department.
The above is meant to be only advice and is correct as of the time of posting. This article was written by Zeliha Sari, Trainee Solicitor in the Residential Property Litigation team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of July 2023.