WHEN IS A PARTY WALL AGREEMENT REQUIRED?
The Party Wall etc Act 1996 provides a procedure to follow when building work is likely to impact the adjoining properties. Work involving alterations to a party wall, excavations close to neighbouring buildings, or new walls built on or astride a boundary line will fall under The Party Wall Act, meaning a notice needs to be served on the adjoining owners before work can start.
Where the adjoining owner receives a notice but does not ‘agree’ in writing to the works, a surveyor or surveyors will need to produce an agreement (usually called an Award) to set out the terms under which the work can proceed.
What is covered by the Act?
There are certain items of work that you can only be done after notifying the adjoining owners and either receiving written agreement of the neighbour or with a Party Wall Award prepared by a surveyor/s.
Notifiable works include (but are not limited to):
- cutting into a wall to take the bearing of a beam, for example for a loft conversion
- inserting a damp proof course, even if only to your own side of a party wall
- raising a party wall and, if necessary, cutting off any objects preventing this from happening
- demolishing and rebuilding a party wall
- underpinning a party wall or part of a party wall
- weathering the junction of adjoining walls or buildings by cutting a flashing into an adjoining building
- excavating foundations within three metres of a neighbour’s structure and lower than its foundations
- excavating foundations within six metres of a neighbour’s structure and below a line drawn down at 45° from the bottom of its foundations.
Notices are also required if it is proposed to build a new wall on the line of junction (boundary line). A party wall surveyor will usually be able to confirm which work is notifiable and advice the notice period and type of notice required.
WHICH WORK IS NOT COVERED BY THE ACT?
The Act relates only to certain specific types of work and is permissive in nature. It should not be seen as a method of objecting to or preventing works and it is not intended to be applied to minor jobs that do not affect the structural integrity or loading of a party wall.
It is generally agreed that works such as fixing plug sockets, screwing in shelving or replastering walls are minor works and do not require a notice.
The workings of the Act are always instigated by the of issuing notices. This is the first stage of the process and, without the issue of valid notices, no further action can be taken under the provision of the Act.
Written notice must be served on adjoining owners at least two months before starting any party wall works (one month for works to the line of junction or excavations). All adjoining owners must be served a notice and there are likely to be instances where there is more than one adjoining property and more than one owner of each property (ie: if the adjoining property is split into flats and owned on a leasehold basis, notices will be required to both leaseholder and freeholder of all flats affected by the works). Works to a party wall, or those affecting a ceiling or floor, will also require a notice to adjoining owners living above or below.
It is essential to include the correct details on a notice as, if they are deemed invalid, then any subsequent actions are also invalid. If you are in any doubt as to who should receive a notice or what it should include then you should seek advice from a party wall surveyor – most will be happy to help free of charge.
Responses To Notices
On receipt of a notice, an adjoining owner has three possible courses of action:
- To consent to the works going ahead as described. A consenting Adjoining Owner retains all rights under the Act including the right to appoint a surveyor later in the process if there is a dispute at that stage.
- To dissent and appoint a surveyor. The Act allows the Owners to concur in the appointment of a single ‘Agreed’ surveyor or appoint their own separate surveyor.
- Issue a counter notice to set out certain conditions required for the benefit of the Adjoining Owner. The Counter Notice should set out what additional or modified work the Adjoining Owner would like to be included for his benefit
In most cases, if the adjoining does not respond within 14 days then a deemed dispute is said to have occurred and the person carrying out the work must appoint a surveyor to act on the adjoining owners behalf.
If adjoining owners provide written consent to the works as set out within the notices, then there is no dispute to resolve and no further need for a party wall agreement. Assuming work proceeds as detailed within the notice and no damage is caused, then no further involvement is necessary.
THE PARTY WALL AGREEMENT (AWARD)
If adjoining owners dissent to the works (or if no response is received and a deemed dissent has arisen) then a dispute has occurred which must be resolved under the requirements of Section 10 of The Act. It is worth reiterating that the Act is one of enablement, it is not there to prevent works from taking place and it offers a route to end disputes at every stage. Where written agreement is not given, the solution the Act provides is for both parties to appoint an ‘agreed surveyor’ who will act impartially or for each owner to appoint a surveyor who in turn appoint a third surveyor. The surveyors then work together to agree the terms under which work may proceed. The surveyor(s) will review the plans, notices and structural details of the works and, after considering the impact of the works, will draw up an agreement which sets out the terms under which work can be carried out (the Award).
The award will usually record the condition of the relevant part of adjoining property before work begins (this is not a requirement under the Act but is considered good practice and is duly provided by most good surveyors). The award may also grant access to both properties so that the works can be safely carried out and the surveyor/s can inspect work in progress.
Generally, the building owner who started the work pays for all expenses of work and the reasonable costs incurred by all parties as a result, this will include the surveyors fees for both Building Owner and Adjoining Owner.
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