Practice Note Number 13: Don’t Forget the Party Wall Act

— 5 minute read

It’s the part of the process that often gets overlooked but has the potential to cause delay and add costs and any building project in close proximity to neighbouring properties.

The formal process starts with the service of the notice(s)and the earlier that can be done the better; an even earlier informal discussion with an affected neighbour will further improve the chances of the process running smoothly.

There are 3 types of work that are notifiable under the Act:

  1. The construction of new walls either up to or astride the boundary(the latter being a new party wall). Works of this type is covered by section 1 of the Act and the notice period is 1 month.
  2. **Work to existing party structures and adjoining structures at the boundary.**Most commonly this includes cutting pockets in to a party wall for beams, padstones etc. but also covers cutting projections away from or flashings into an adjoining structure. This is also the section that gives you the right to underpin, raise or completely rebuild an existing party wall. Work of this type is covered by section 2 of the Act and the notice period is 2 months.
  3. **Excavation within 3 metres of a shared or adjoining structure and deeper than the base of the foundations to that structure.**This is extended to 6 metres where the excavation is particularly deep such as for piled foundations. Work of this type is covered by section 6 of the Act and the notice period is 1 month.

With a bit of online research it’s possible to draft the notices yourself but be careful as any errors will mean having to start the process over. The two most common errors are forgetting to include a foundation section with the excavation notice and pushing the notices through your neighbours’ letter box (they must be either posted or delivered in person).

Following service of notice the adjoining owners have 14 days to consider their response. If they consent that completes the process although you may still want to have a schedule of condition prepared as that will protect both owners in case of a claim for damage. If they dissent or do not respond within the 14 days a ‘dispute’ arises and surveyors must be appointed to resolve it. The owners can agree to use a single surveyor (referred to as the ‘Agreed Surveyor’). Where there is no response the adjoining owner must be given a further 10 days in which to provide their surveyor’s details after which you get to choose a surveyor for them – unfortunately that cannot be an Agreed Surveyor as that’s only possible if both owners expressly agree to it.

Once surveyors are appointed, they start the process of agreeing a party wall award – that’s the document which resolves the dispute. The award will authorise the works to be undertaken but in a manner that minimises the risk to adjoining structures and does not cause unnecessary inconvenience to adjoining occupiers. As soon as the award has been served on the owners the works can commence. The award will confirm any rights of access over neighbouring properties, such as to build the flank walls of a rear extension, but bear in mind that such is subject to 14 days’ notice in writing.

Assuming that the works run smoothly the surveyors will not generally get involved again until they are complete although with more complex works, such as a basement extension, an interim visit may be scheduled.

Upon completion the surveyor acting for the adjoining owner will return and check through the schedule of condition. Damage is relatively rare but if it occurs the adjoining owner can either allow your contractor to make good or request a payment in lieu (which would typically be based on an estimate).  If there is a dispute over either the cause or cost of making good damage it wall fall to the appointed surveyor(s) to resolve.

Finally, although it’s not specifically stated in the Act it is generally accepted that the owner benefitting from the works is responsible for the surveyors’ reasonable fees. Your own surveyor (or an Agreed Surveyor) should be happy to quote a fixed fee in advance but the adjoining owner’s surveyor keeps a record of their time and submits a proposed fee when the award is agreed, it’s part of your surveyor’s role to ensure that it’s reasonable and if the surveyors disagree the matter can be referred to a previously selected Third Surveyor.

This article was written with the assistance of Justin Burns BSc (Hons) MRICS FFPWS of Peter Barry Party Wall Surveyors

We work with Peter Barry on many of our projects. We like the way that they do their work and we feel that they consistently bring everything that is required to the process. We strongly recommend using a surveyor for Party Wall work – we don’t do this work in house as we feel that specialist advice is always beneficial, but please do give us a call if you wish to discuss any aspect of this article or if you think that this article might be relevant or your project.

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