Party Wall Act Notices and Disputes

Posted: Tuesday, 6 February 2018 @ 14:49

Prior to 1996 there was no regulation outside of London which gave a statutory mechanism for resolving building issues with Party Walls and other structures against a boundary.

By Party Walls I mean walls and structures which are shared by adjoining properties or built on or near the boundary line.

The Act of 1996 changed all of that, giving statutory strength to common law rights and adding some new rights and obligations. The Act provides a mechanism to ensure that adjoining owners can undertake building works to party structures, as well as construct new structures close to neighbouring walls, provided a notice procedure is followed.

Reasonable rights of access are also granted to enable the work to be done. But reasonable efforts must be made to minimize disruption and any damage done must be made good.

If any building owner, and there is a wide definition of that, intends to carry out building work which involves:

  • Work on an existing wall or structure shared with another property.
  • Building a free-standing wall or a wall of a building up to or astride the boundary.
  • Excavating near a neighbouring building 

they must find out if the intended work is governed by the Act. If it does, then there is a procedure for notifying all parties, certain rights attached to the work, and a dispute resolution process.

I will now look in greater detail to the 3 scenarios mentioned above. But first I should point out that “building work” does not include minor work unless it endangers the integrity of the structure. So, wiring work, re-plastering walls, and fixing for example units to wall, would not usually count.

1. Work to an existing Party Wall or structure: this gives a building owner the right to do various work, including demolishing and re-building a Party Wall, underpinning, protection work, raising the height or increasing the width of the Party Wall, and for example inserting a structural beam or installing a damp proof course.

Before starting on this work the Building Owner must give notice to all adjoining owners affected. Failure to do this could result in the adjoining owners obtaining a court injunction stopping the work.

Best practice must always be to engage in a discussion with the adjoining owners well in advance, giving them full details and plans of the proposed works, including the proposed start date, to try to head off any flash points.

The notice required by the Act must be in writing and served on all the adjoining owners at least 2 months before the planned starting date for the building works. The adjoining owners can give their consent in writing and may also agree an earlier start date. They may also dissent.

If they dissent or do nothing for 14 days, then the dispute resolution process comes into play. There is also a procedure allowing the adjoining owners to give a counter notice if they wish work to be undertaken for their own benefit.

The dispute process is to agree either to appoint an independent “Agreed Surveyor” to draw up an impartial Award, or if that is not possible to each appoint a surveyor, and between them they will appoint an additional independent surveyor to deal with issues where they cannot reach agreement. The Award will set out in detail the work to be carried out, say when and how it will be carried out, specify additional work such as protection work, contain a record of exiting condition to assist with identifying new damage caused by the work, and allow access for surveyors.

Access: an adjoining owner must when necessary allow workmen and surveyors and architects for example to their property to undertake and check the work. But 14 days written notice must be given. It is a criminal offence to refuse or obstruct access.

Rights: adjoining owners have certain rights, some already mentioned, such as to appoint their own surveyor, require reasonable measures to be taken to protect their property, not to suffer unnecessary inconvenience, and to be compensated for any loss or damage.

2. New building at or astride the boundary line: again, the notice procedure mentioned above must be followed. Note that there is no right to build astride the boundary without the adjoining owner’s permission, and whilst footings for building up to the boundary line may extend under the neighbour’s land there is no right to place reinforced concrete under the neighbour’s land without their express permission.

For this type of work the notice has to be served at least one month before the planned start date. For access and rights, see above. The dispute resolution process is the same as outlined above.

3. Excavating within 3 metres or 6 metres of a neighbouring building or structure, depending on the depth of the hole/foundations. This involves excavation work, or excavation and construction of foundations for a new building or structure.

If the work is within 3 metres of the neighbouring owner’s building or structure, and the work will go deeper than the heighbour’s foundations, then notice has to be given.

If the work is within 6 metres, if the work will cut a line drawn downwards at an angle of 45 degrees from the bottom of the neighbour’s foundations, then notice must be given.

The same time and other provisions and dispute resolution process apply as per the work to existing party wall or structure as mentioned above.  For this work the notice in writing must be given at least one month before the planned start date.

The dangers for building owners who ignore the Act and start work are well illustrated by the recent case of Peabody Trust v Brecher in the Technology and Construction Court. The Brechers did give the necessary notice under the Act, but then failed to comply with the procedures and went ahead with works causing damage to the Peabody’s property at a time when no Award had been made in the dispute resolution procedure. Peabody went to court 3 times, and on the last occasion in November 2017 obtained a final injunction preventing any work covered by the Act unless and until either an Award had been made or Peabody’s consent had been given and requiring the Brechers to give Access to Peabody’s surveyors.                              

For free advice on this topic please call us on 0845 003 5639.

This blog is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor is it intended to be a complete and authoritative statement of the law, and what we say might be out of date by the time you read it. You should always seek legal advice to confirm whether or how any information in this article applies to your particular situation. We offer a free telephone consultation to discuss your particular circumstances.


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