If you are planning to make home improvements to your property, you may need a party wall agreement before you can start the build. The Party Wall etc Act 1996 is the relevant legislation that comes into force for certain types of building works that affect (and potentially cause damage to) a wall or structure shared between two building owners – the ‘party wall’. This could be the dividing wall between two terraced houses or semi-detached homes, or it could be the ceiling between two flats in a block. It could also be a shared garden wall.
There are three types of building work that fall within the scope of the Act:
- Alterations to a party wall or structure
- Building work along the boundary line between two properties
- Excavations within a specified distance of the party wall/structure
The Party Wall Act comes into play where roof supports for a loft conversion are inserted into the walls of a terraced or semi-detached property, when foundations are dug close to a neighbouring structure for a conservatory or home extension, for basement conversions and garden walls that are built on a boundary.
At Foundation Surveyors, our specialist team of party wall surveyors in Greater London has extensive experience in all party wall-related matters. In this blog post, we are sharing some key information to help you understand what is involved.
Serving a Party Wall Notice
Before you can start any building project involving a party wall, the homeowner (Building Owner) is legally obliged to obtain a written Party Wall Agreement from all affected neighbours (Adjoining Owners). This means serving a written Party Wall Notice to Adjoining Owners, detailing the proposed works. You must give at least 2 months’ written notice for building works affecting a party wall or boundary, and at least 3 months’ notice for excavations.
There are various ways that a Party Wall Notice can be served – you can find a detailed explanation in our blog post here – and there are templated forms available to download on the internet that you can use. That said, party wall legislation is a notoriously complex area of law, and failing to comply for whatever reason could have significant financial consequences and cause project delays. For that reason, we would always recommend that you take professional advice.
At Foundation Surveyors, we routinely act on behalf of Building Owners and Adjoining Owners, ensuring that the legal process is carried out effectively, competently and in full compliance so that the interests of all parties are safeguarded. Call our office and speak to a specialist today.
Obtaining a Party Wall Agreement
Once Notice has been served, your neighbour(s) have 14 days to respond. There are three possible outcomes:
- You receive the Adjoining Owner(s)’ written consent, with the condition that any problems arising will be rectified by you. It is good practice to take photos of the party wall along with annotations regarding any cracks, and a copy given to both parties. You could also appoint a party wall surveyor to draw up a Schedule of Condition so that the risk of any disputes later can be minimised.
- The Adjoining Owner dissents or no reply is received after 14 days. In this case, you are deemed to be in dispute and a party wall surveyor will need to be appointed who can act for both yourself and the Adjoining Owner(s) to draw up a Party Wall Award which contains details of the proposed works along with a Schedule of Condition.
- While the most cost-effective route is to appoint an agreed joint surveyor, it is also possible for each party to instruct their own party wall surveyor. Bear in mind that it is the Building Owner who is legally responsible for the costs of Adjoining Owners’ surveyors as well as his own.
For more information about party wall matters, see our Frequently Asked Questions here.
Maintaining cordial neighbourly relations
Without meaning to state the obvious, the likelihood of your loft conversion, basement extension or any project that affects the party wall proceeding smoothly is going to be greater if you are on good terms with your neighbours. Understandably, they will be concerned about any potential damage to their property as a result of your build, so it is up to you to reassure them and allay any fears they may have.
Rather than simply popping a Party Wall Notice through their letterbox without any prior warning, it may be a good idea to have a friendly informal chat in the first instance. Share your ideas for the build along with sketch drawings, so they can see what you are planning and ask any questions. Spend time reassuring your neighbours that you are as bothered about following proper procedure as they are. When Notice is finally served to them, they will already know all about your plans and may have no reason to object.
Finally, it is entirely reasonable for your neighbours to ask for contact details for your surveyor or building contractor. Make sure you don’t stand in their way of obtaining further information and professional reassurance about your upcoming project.
For professional advice and assistance for all party wall matters in North London, across the capital and beyond, get in touch with Foundation Surveyors. With many years’ experience of residential property surveys and valuations and as party wall surveyors, we can help you prepare the necessary Party Wall Notice and Party Wall Awards to ensure that your building works are carried out in accordance with the law, and with the minimum of disruption and inconvenience to you and your neighbours.