Builders and the Party Wall Act
Are you carrying out a building Project?
If a builder is carrying out a building project in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire or Cheshire on your behalf, in addition to Planning Permission and Building Regulation approval it is the house owner’s responsibility to check whether the works fall within the scope of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996.
The Party Wall Act came into force in 1997 and sets out rights and responsibilities for owners planning to carry out work to their property and any affected neighbours.
The Party Wall Act does not affect any requirement to obtain Planning Permission or Building Regulation Approval for any work undertaken. Likewise, having Planning Permission and/or Building Regulation Approval does not negate the requirements of the Act.
An owner planning to undertake any work that falls within the scope of the Act has duty to serve notice on any affected adjoining owners. The following types of work will be covered:
- The construction of new walls up to or astride the boundary between two properties.
- Work that directly affects a party wall.
- Work directly affecting a shared boundary wall (known as a Party Fence Wall).
- Work that directly affects floors/ceilings separating flats within a building.
- Excavation close to an adjoining structure.
As with all work affecting neighbours, the priority should be for the parties to reach a friendly agreement. Even where the work requires a notice to be served under the Act, it is not always necessary to appoint surveyors.
Recent case law has confirmed that an adjoining owner can appoint a surveyor later in the process even though they consented to the original notice. Therefore, if an adjoining owner has no reason to be concerned about the proposed works they should feel comfortable about consenting under the Act safe in the knowledge that should damage occur, and there is a dispute over the cause or the cost of making good, surveyors can be appointed at that point to resolve the dispute.
What work can be done without serving notice?
Under the Party Wall Act some works are considered too minor to require a notice to be served. According to Government guidelines these include:
- Putting up shelves and wall units.
- Electrical rewiring.
What work needs a notice and permission?
The general principle of the Party Wall Act is that all work which might have an effect upon the structural strength or support function of the party wall or might cause damage to the neighbouring side of the wall must be notified. If in doubt, advice should be sought from an experienced surveyor.
Works covered by the Party Wall Act include:
- Demolishing and/or rebuilding a party wall.
- Increasing the height or thickness of a party wall.
- Inserting of a flashing or damp proof course in to a party wall (either chemical injection or a physical dpc).
- Cutting into the party wall to insert load bearing beams.
- Removing a chimney breast from a party wall.
- Underpinning a party wall.
- Excavations within 3 metres of a neighbouring structure where the excavation will go below the bottom of the foundations of that neighbouring structure.
- Excavations within 6 metres of a neighbouring structure where the excavation will cut through a line drawn at an angle of 45° downwards from the bottom of the foundations to the neighbouring strucure.
What is required in a notice?
All notices served under the Act must include the following information:
- The address of the building where the work is taking place.
- The names of the building owner(s).
- The address of the adjoining building.
- The names of the adjoining building owner(s).
- A brief description of the proposed work, a single line will normally suffice.
- The proposed start date for the work.
- A clear statement that the notice is being served under The Party Wall etc Act 1996.
- The date the notice is being served.
If any of the above information is missing the notice will be invalid and could affect the validity of any future award.
The procedure for serving notices under the Party Wall Act is as follows:
Work Directly to a Party Structure – Party Structure Notice
The owner planning the work must serve a written notice on any affected adjoining owners at least two months before the proposed start date. Each adjoining owner has 14 days in which to consent – if an adjoining owner does not reply within 14 days a dispute s deemed to have arisen between the parties.
See ‘Example Letter 1’ in the Government Explanatory Booklet
New Boundary Walls – Line of Junction Notice
If it is proposed to build a new boundary wall, up to or astride the boundary line, the process is similar to the above but the notice needs to be served at least one month before the planned start date of the work. Adjoining owners must give written agreement within 14 days for walls astride the boundary (or a dispute is deemed to have occurred), however no formal agreement is needed for a wall up to the boundary line, the adjoining owner just needs not to object in writing.
See ‘Example Letters 4 & 6’ in the Government Explanatory Booklet
Adjacent Excavations – Notice of Adjacent Excavation
If the planned work is an excavation within the distance/depth covered by the Party Wall Act, the notice needs to be served at least one month before the planned start day of the work. Adjoining owners must give their written consent within 14 days or a dispute is deemed to have occurred.
Notices of Adjacent Excavation must be served with a drawing showing the position and depth of the proposed excavation.
See ‘Example Letter 8’ in the Government Explanatory Booklet
What happens if a dispute arises?
If agreement cannot be reached between the owners the Act’s dispute resolution procedures must be followed:
Each owner must appoint a surveyor although, if the adjoining owner agrees, they may appoint the same surveyor; known as the ‘agreed surveyor’. The use of an agreed surveyor should be encouraged for smaller works to keep the costs in proportion.
The surveyor (or surveyors) will decide who pays the fees – usually it will be the party undertaking the work; the exception being where the owner of the adjoining property calls on the surveyor unnecessarily. It should be noted that any surveyor(s) must act within their statutory responsibilities and produce a fair and impartial Award.
Once an Award has been made it must be served on the owners without delay. There is a 14 day period during which either owner can make an appeal in the County Court although in practice appeals are relatively rare.
Awards are legally binding documents and should be retained with the property deeds; a subsequent purchaser of the property may wish to establish that the work was carried out in accordance with the Party Wall Act requirements.
At Mason & Mason Construction Solutions Ltd we are happy to assist you in all aspects of the Party Wall Act administration as part of our inclusive service and we do not charge for this, we believe that a happy neighbour is of prime importance whilst carrying out building works on a property, after all they will be there long after we have gone! If you are looking for a professional builder in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire or Cheshire call us first!
The complete text of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 is available online
Technical information updated by Justin Burns BSc MRICS MFPWS of Peter Barry Surveyors; specialists on party wall agreements.
We’ve only given a brief outline of the Party Wall Act here but have a look at the Government Explanatory Booklet for further details including example letters for notices and responses.
You can use this tool to generate notices identical to those in the Government Explanatory Booklet.
Discussing proposed work with neighbours is free and can avoid a misunderstanding which might arise if a notice arrives unexpectedly. Your local Building Control Office may be able to give free advice regarding the Party Wall Act and how it applies to particular circumstances.