London Party Wall Surveyors

PARTY WALL ACT 1996

The PARTY WALL ACT 1996 Act came into force in September 1997, and it generally relates to works and alterations covering three particular types of work:

  • Alterations to party structures (usually walls, but may also include floors)
  • The construction of new walls near boundaries within six metres of a party structure or a neighbour’s building
  • Excavations within six metres of a party structure or a neighbour’s building

Typical examples of work that is likely to be covered by the Act include:

  • Cutting beams into a party wall as part of a loft conversion
  • Removing chimney breasts that are attached to a party wall
  • Excavating for the foundations to a new extension within 3 meters of a neighbouring or shared structure
  • Underpinning a party wall to facilitate a basement extension

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What is the purpose of the Party Wall Act 1996

The purpose of the legislation is to protect the interests of the Adjoining Owner (a neighbour) and to grant additional rights to the Building Owner (the person wishing to carry out building works) in order to assist the Building Owner in developing land to its full potential.

The additional rights granted to the Building Owner by the Act include access to neighbouring premises, raising the full width of a party wall (including a neighbour’s half), underpinning the full width of a party structure and placing foundations on a neighbour’s land. However, in so doing, a Building Owner must formally notify his neighbours in good time and do all that is reasonably required to safeguard the Adjoining Owner(s) interests (e.g. taking precautions and recording the condition of neighbouring properties before the works commence).

The Act also provides a mechanism for resolving the differences and disputes (that often arise) in a quick and cost-effective manner. Ordinarily, the following procedure is followed:

  • Building Owner (BO) serves Notice (one/two months) on his Adjoining Owner (AO).
  • The AO responds and either consents to the works (normally where the works are relatively minor/very low risk) or dissents. Dissent tends to be encouraged since the interests of both parties are better protected in these circumstances. It should be noted that non-response is classified as dissent.
  • If the AO consents to the works, the matter is provisionally at an end but it is often prudent to prepare a schedule of condition nevertheless. The AO is always entitled to raise an issue for determination (e.g. in connection with damage) even if he has consented to a Notice.
  • If the AO dissents, a difference is deemed to have arisen and both owners are legally obliged to each appoint a surveyor or concur in the appointment of an Agreed Surveyor. If works are of a minor nature and non-controversial, experienced surveyors will often encourage the latter arrangement to mitigate the burden of the Act, especially in relation to small residential projects where the fees are often out of proportion to the cost of the exercisable rights.
  • The Surveyors (who are under a duty to act impartially, no matter who appoints them) will then make a legally binding Award. The Award will include the rights and duties of the Building Owner. Surveyors are performing the task of a tribunal which is similar to the task undertaken by judges in a court of law; their appointment cannot be terminated by the Appointing Owners. The Party Wall Service is a specialist field of expertise and a Surveyor will require considerable experience and training to perform efficiently and fairly.
  • If either Owner believes the Award has been made improperly/unfairly, there is a right to appeal against the Award in the County Court, but this is very rarely needed.
  • The AO’s surveyor will normally carry out at least one inspection after the award has been served; fees for both owners are normally paid by the Building Owner but there are exceptions (e.g. where the benefit of the work is shared/a repair).
  • If two surveyors are unable to agree, then one of the surveyors (with their appointing owners’ permission) will refer the matter to a Third Surveyor who will make the Award instead; the Third Surveyor (who is selected at the outset by the two appointed surveyors) will Award his own fee and sometimes this is made against the Adjoining Owner (e.g. if the Adjoining Owner unfairly raises an issue for determination).

This kind of Legislation has existed in various forms in London since 1667 (the year after the Great Fire) and has been very successful. It is one area of the law that lawyers leave to surveyors because they know more about the law than lawyers know about construction; a good understanding of both is required to make fair and prompt determinations.

Neighbours occasionally try to use the Act, instead of town planning procedures and other legislation, to prevent the Building Owner’s works from proceeding but this is not possible; procedures are set out in the Act to force the Adjoining Owner’s co-operation but they rarely have to be used. Conversely, Building Owners occasionally try to progress their works without serving Notices and consequently suffer considerable cost, expense and delay in regularising matters through solicitors and responding to injunctions served by their neighbours.

Neighbours should not feel the need to go to war over issues of this kind or take offence when a neighbour tries to protect his interests by dissenting to the proposals. Differences/disputes are honourable and normally encouraged; it is the Surveyors’ responsibility to decide what is fair and reasonable; the Owners are consulted but do not get involved in the negotiations.

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Party Wall FAQs

How long has the legislation existed?

This kind of Legislation has existed in various forms in London since 1667 (the year after the Great Fire) and has been very successful.

Should I ask a lawyer?

This is one area of the Law that lawyers leave to surveyors because they know more about the Law than lawyers know about Construction; a good understanding of both is required to make fair and prompt determinations.

Can neighbours object through the act?

Neighbours occasionally try to use the Act, instead of town planning procedures and other legislation, to prevent the Building Owner’s works from proceeding but this is not possible; procedures are set out in the Act to force the Adjoining Owner’s co-operation but they rarely have to be used. Conversely, Building Owners occasionally try to progress their works without serving Notices and consequently suffer considerable cost, expense and delay in regularising matters through solicitors and responding to injunctions served by their neighbours.

Neighbours should not feel the need to go to war over issues of this kind or take offence when a neighbour tries to protect his interests by dissenting to the proposals. Differences/disputes are honourable and normally encouraged; it is the Surveyors’ responsibility to decide what is fair and reasonable; the Owners are consulted but do not get involved in the negotiations.

How can Foundation Surveyors help?

At Foundation Surveyors we have an expert team of party wall surveyors covering Greater London. We are Party Wall specialists and have acted on the behalf of countless satisfied Clients. We have experience in all party wall related matters.

If you are planning on undertaking work that falls within the scope of the Act or have received a notice informing you of proposed works that may affect your property, please contact us today. All initial advice is FREE.