Party Wall Q&As

THE PARTY WALL ACT 1996   Most Commonly asked questions and answers.

1. WHAT DOES THE ACT DO?

The Act provides a framework for preventing and resolving disputes in relation to party walls, boundary walls and excavations near neighboring buildings. It is based on some tried and tested provisions of the London Building Acts, which have been applied in inner London for many decades.

For the first time throughout England and Wales, anyone proposing to carry out work of the kinds described in the Act must give adjoining owners notice of their intentions. ‘A notice must he given even where that work will not extend beyond the centerline of the party wall’.

Adjoining owners can agree or disagree with what is proposed. Where there is a disagreement, the Act provides for the resolution of disputes.

2. WHAT DOES THE ACT COVER?

  • Various work that are going to be carried out directly to an existing party wall.
  • New building at or astride the boundary line between properties
  • Excavation within 3 or 6 meters of a neighboring building (or buildings), depending on the depth of the hole or foundations

3. WHAT IS A PARTY WALL:

A wall is a party wall if:

  • it stands astride the boundary of land belonging to two (or more) different owners or
  • it belongs totally to one owner, but is used by two (or more) owners to separate their buildings. Where one person has built the wall in the first place, and another has abutted their building up against it without constructing their own wall, only the part of the wall that does the separating is "party". Sections on either side or above are not "party"

4. WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS UNDER THE ACT IF I WANT TO DO WORK ON AN EXISTING PARTY WALL?

The Act provides a building owner, who wishes to carry our various sorts of work to an existing party wall, with additional rights to do so. These go beyond ordinary common law rights.

Section 2 of the Act lists what work can he done. The most commonly used rights are:

  • to cut into a wall to take the bearing of a beam, or to insert a damp proof course all the way through the wall.
  • to raise the whole party wall and, if necessary, cut off any projections which prevent you from doing so
  • to demolish and rebuild the party wall
  • to underpin the whole wall
  • to protect two adjoining walls by putting a flashing from the higher over the lower.

5. WHAT ARE MY DUTIES UNDER THE ACT?

If you intend to carry out any of the works mentioned in paragraph 4, you must inform all adjoining owners - see paragraphs 7 and 8. You must not even cut into your own half of the wall without telling the next door neighbor of your intentions - see paragraph 6.

If you start work without having given notice in the proper way, adjoining owners may seek redress through the courts.

‘A neighbor cannot stop someone from exercising the rights given to them by the Act, but they can influence how and when the work is- done’ - see paragraph 10.

The Act also says that a building owner must not cause unnecessary inconvenience. The building owner must provide compensation for any damage and must provide temporary protection for buildings and property where necessary.

6. WHAT ABOUT THINGS LIKE PUTTING UP SHELVES OR WALL UNITS. OR INSTALLING RECESSED ELECTRIC SOCKETS, OR REMOVING AND RENEWING PLASTER?

Minor works on a party wall are usually considered to be too trivial to come under the Act. Examples of minor works include:

  • drilling into your own half of a party wall to fix plugs and screws for ordinary wall units or shelving
  • drilling into your own half of a party wall to add/replace recessed electric wiring and sockets
  • replastering

The key point is whether your planned work might have consequences for the structural strength and support functions of the party wall. If you are in doubt about whether your planned work requires a notice you might wish to seek advice from a qualified professional with knowledge of party wall matters.

7. WHO COUNTS AS AN “ADJOINING OWNER”?

Essentially, an adjoining owner is anyone with an interest greater than a tenancy from year to year in the adjoining property. If the next door property is occupied by a long term tenant or leaseholder it will be necessary to notify the landlord as well. Where there is more than one owner of the property or more than one adjoining property, it is your duty to notify all of them.

8. HOW DO I INFORM THE ADJOINING OWNER OR OWNERS ?

It is obviously best to discuss your planned work fully with your neighbors before you (or your professional adviser) give notice, in writing, about what you plan to do. If you have already ironed our possible snags with your neighbors, this should mean that they would readily give consent in response to your notice. Whilst there is no set form for giving notice under the Act, your notice must include the following details:

  • your own name and address
  • the building's address (if different)
  • a clear statement that your notice is a notice under the provisions of the Act
  • full details of what you propose to do (including plans where appropriate)
  • when you propose to start.

Standard forms are now available through the R1CS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors).

You may deliver the notice in person or send it by post. Where the neighboring property is empty or the owner is not known, you may address the notice to "the owner" of the premises and fix it to a conspicuous part of the premises.

9. HOW LONG IN ADVANCE DO 1 HAVE TO SERVE THE NOTICE?

At least two months before the planned starting date for work to the party wall. The notice is only valid for a year, so do not serve it too long before you wish to start.

10. WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I SERVE NOTICE?

A person who receives a notice about intended work may give his consent in writing or give a counter-notice setting out what additional or modified work he would like to see carried out. A person who receives a notice about intended work, and intends to serve a counter-notice, should let his neighbor know within 14 days. If, after a period of 14 days from the service of your notice, the person receiving the notice has done nothing a dispute is regarded as have arisen. The procedure explained in paragraph 11 then comes into play. If you receive a counter-notice you must respond to it within 14 days. If you do not, a dispute is regarded as having arisen - see paragraph 11. As mentioned in paragraph 8, your notice should not come as a surprise. If you have already ironed out possible snags with your neighbors, this should mean that they will readily give consent in response to your notice.

11. WHAT IF 1 CANNOT REACH AGREEMENT WITH MY NEIGHBOUR ON THE WORK TO BE DONE TO THE PARTY WALL?

The best way of settling any point of difference is by friendly discussion with your neighbor. Agreements should always he put in writing.

If you cannot reach agreement with your neighbor, the next best thing is to appoint, jointly what the Act calls an "agreed surveyor" to draw up an "award". The agreed surveyor should preferably not be the same person that you intend to employ to supervise your building work — see paragraph 12.

Alternatively, each neighbor can appoint a surveyor to draw up the award together. The two surveyors will nominate a third surveyor who would be called in only if the two surveyors cannot agree.

In all cases, surveyors appointed under the dispute resolution procedure of the Act to draw up an award must behave impartially and consider the interests of both neighbors. They do not act as advocates for each side.

12. WHO CAN I APPOINT AS A SURVEYOR IN THE EVENT  OF A DISPUTE?

The term "surveyor" is defined in the Act as any person not being a party to the matter. This means that you can appoint almost anyone you like to act in this capacity, however some people are obviously more suitable than others. You may wish to look for a qualified professional with knowledge of party wall matters such as the Chartered Surveyor or Structural Engineer.

It is recommended that you and your neighbor do not choose, as the "agreed surveyor", a person that you (as building owner) have already engaged to design or supervise your building works.

13. WHAT DOES THE PARTY WALL SURVEYOR DO?

The surveyor (or surveyors) will prepare an "award". This is a document which:

  • sets out the work that will be carried out
  • says when and how the work is to be carried out (for example, not at weekends if the buildings are domestic properties)
  • records the condition of next door before the works begins (so that any damage can be properly attributed and made good)
  • allows access for the surveyors to inspect the works while they're going on (to see that they are in accordance with the award). It is a good idea to keep a copy of the award with your property deeds.

14. WHO PAYS THE SURVEYOR'S FEES?

The surveyor (or surveyors) will decide who pays the fees for drawing up the award and for checking that the work has been carried out in accordance with the award. Usually the building owner will pay all these costs.

15. IS THE SURVEYOR'S AWARD FINAL?

Either side has 14 days to appeal to the County Court against an award. An appeal should only he made to the County Court it an owner believes that the surveyors have acted beyond their powers.

16. WHO PAYS FOR THE BUILDING WORKS?

Your agreement with the neighboring owner, or the award in the event of a dispute, will set this out.

The general principle in the Act is that the building owner who initiated the work pays for it. However, there are cases where the adjoining owner may pay part of the cost, for example:

  • where work to a party wall is needed because of defects or lack of repair for which the adjoining owner may be responsible
  • where an adjoining owner requests that additional work should be done. Where the dispute resolution procedure is called upon, the award may deal with apportionment of the costs of the work. The dispute procedure may be used specifically to resolve the question of costs.

17. WHAT HAPPENS IF THE NEIGHBOURS WON’T COOPERATE?

If a dispute has arisen and the neighboring owner refuses to appoint a surveyor under the dispute resolution procedure, you can appoint a second surveyor on his behalf, so that the procedure can go ahead - see paragraph 11.

18. WHAT ABOUT ACCESS TO NEIGHBOURING PROPERTY?

Under the Act, an adjoining occupier must, when necessary let in your workmen, your own surveyor or architect etc., and any surveyors appointed as part of the dispute resolution procedure. You must give the adjoining owner and occupier notice of your intention to exercise these rights of entry. The Act says that 14 days' notice must usually be given.

It is an offense, which can be prosecuted in the magistrates' court, to refuse entry to or obstruct someone who is entitled to enter premises under the Act, if the offender knows  that the person is entitled to be there.

If the adjoining property is empty, your workmen and your own surveyor or architect etc. may enter the premises if they are accompanied by a police officer.

19. AS A NEIGHBOURING OWNER, WHAT CAN I DO TO GUARD AGAINST THE RISK THAT THE BUILDING OWNER MAY LEAVE WORK ON THE PARTY WALL UNFINISHED?

If there is a risk that you will be left in difficulties if the owner stops work at an inconvenient stage you can ask him, before he starts work, to make available an amount of money that would allow you to restore the status quo if he fails to do so. This money is usually deposited with a Solicitor. The money remains his throughout, but if, for example, you need to have a wall rebuilt, you call draw on that security to pay for the rebuilding.

20. WHAT DOES THE ACT SAY IF 1 WANT TO BUILD UP AGAINST OR ASTRIDE THE BOUNDARY LINE?

It you plan to build a party wall or party fence wall astride the boundary line, you must inform the adjoining owner by serving a notice - see paragraphs 7 and 8. However, there is no right to build astride the boundary if your neighbor objects - see paragraph 22. You must also inform the adjoining owner or owners if you plan to build a wall wholly on your own land but up against the boundary line. If you start work without having first given notice in the proper way, adjoining owners may seek redress through the courts.

21. HOW LONG IN ADVANCE DO I HAVE TO SERVE THE NOTICE?

At least one month before the planned starling date for building the wall. The notice is only valid for a year, so do not serve it too long before you wish to start.

22. WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I SERVE NOTICE ABOUT BUILDING ASTRIDE THE BOUNDARY LINE?

If the adjoining owner agrees, in writing within 14 days to the building of a new wall astride the boundary line, the work (as agreed) may GO ahead. The expense of building the wall may be shared between the owners, where the benefits and use of that wall will be shared.

If the adjoining owner does not respond, or objects to the proposed new wall astride the boundary line, you must build the wall wholly on your own land, and wholly at your own expense. However, you have a right to place footings for the new wall under your neighbor's land, subject to compensation - see paragraph 23. There is no right to place reinforced concrete on your neighbor’s land without their express consent.

23. WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I SERVE NOTICE ABOUT BUILDING UP AGAINST THE BOUNDARY LINE?

You may start work one month after your notice was served. This work may include footings and foundations that extend under the adjoining owner's land. The wall will be built wholly at your own expense and you will be expected to compensate any adjoining owner for any damage to his property caused by the building of the wall, or the placing of footings and foundations.

24. WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE IS A DISAGREEMENT WITH MY NEIGHBOR?

If there is disagreement about any work of the kinds covered in paragraph 22 to 23 iincluding compensation, the dispute can be settled under the procedure described in paragraphs in 11 to 17.

25. WHAT ABOUT ACCESS TO NEIGHBOURING PROPERTY? 

See paragraph 18

26. WHAT DOES THE ACT SAY IF I WANT TO EXCAVATE NEAR NEIGHBORING BUILDINGS?

If you plan to:

  • excavate, or construct foundations for a new building or structure, within 3 meters of a neighboring owner's building where that work will go deeper than the neighbor's foundations or
  • excavate, or construct foundations for a new building or structure, within 6 meters of a neighboring owner's building where that work will cut a line drawn downwards at 45 degrees from the bottom of the neighbors foundations you must inform the adjoining owner by serving a notice - see paragraphs 7 and 8. The notice must also state whether you propose to strengthen or safeguard the foundations of the building or structure belonging to the adjoining owner. The notice must be accompanied by plans.

If you start work without having first given notice in the proper way, adjoining owners may seek redress through the courts.

27. HOW LONG IN ADVANCE DO I HAVE TO SERVE THE NOTICE?

At least one month before the planned starting date for the excavation. The notice is only valid for one-year, so do not serve it too long before you wish to start.

28. WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I SERVE NOTICE?

The adjoining owner gives a notice within 14 days agreeing to the excavation, the work (as agreed) may go ahead. If the adjoining owner does not respond, or objects to the proposed work, a dispute is regarded as having arisen — see paragraphs 11 to 17. After the work has been completed, the adjoining owner may request particulars of the work, including plans and sections.

29. WHAT ABOUT ACCESS TO NEIGHBOURING PROPERTY?

See paragraph 18