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4 crucial questions about party wall notices you should be asking

If your property shares a wall with an adjoining property – for instance in a terraced or semi-detached house – building works that will affect this ‘party wall’ are subject to important legislation. The Party Wall Act 1996 was introduced as a way to provide legal protection for both property owners. If either party wishes to carry out home improvements or building works that fall within the remit of the Act, a Party Wall Notice must be served on the adjoining owner.

What sort of building works are covered by the Part Wall Act?

Whether you are considering building works for a commercial property or in your home, you will need a Party Wall Agreement for the following types of work:

  • Cutting into a wall, for example to insert a load bearing beam for loft conversions, to insert a damp proof course or flashings
  • Raising the height of the wall, or increasing its thickness
  • Demolishing and rebuilding the party wall
  • Underpinning the party wall, for example to dig new foundations for a building extension or basement conversion

It’s also important to notice that the definition of ‘party wall’ also includes party structures including floors, garden walls that are built over a boundary, as well as excavations that are with 3 or 6 metres within the neighbour’s property.

How do you serve a Party Wall Notice?

Before any planned works can begin, it is essential that the building owner serves a Party Wall Notice to all adjoining owners that are going to be affected. This can include freeholders and leaseholders and any buyers under contract, plus any tenants and occupiers of the property.

The party wall process is carefully laid down in law and must be followed to the letter, and there are strict timetables to be adhered to. This makes it highly advisable to instruct a specialist surveyor who has experience in party wall matters and can guide you through the entire process

Party Wall Notices must be drawn up in writing including a full description of the proposed work, and must be served either in writing or in person, along with clear actions required and deadlines for their receipt. There may be Notices to be served to several parties.

How to maximise your neighbour’s chances of consenting?

It is a legal requirement to obtain formal consent from all adjoining owners before you are permitted to commence your proposed works. In order to minimise any potential, costly delays in finding agreement, find an experienced party wall surveyor who is well versed in handling the situation.

What’s more, it pays to establish and maintain good neighbourly relations – ideally before Notice is served. Why not have a friendly chat to share your proposed plans so that everyone feels consulted and their views are respected. Not only does this give other parties to process what you have told them, doing it on friendly terms is a good start to any negotiations and your best chance to reach mutual agreement quickly.

Whether or not you are on good terms with adjoining building owners, your surveyor will serve a Party Wall Notice. Assuming consent is received within the specified 14 days, you are free to get started on your building works. If no response has been received within the set time, your neighbours are assumed to be in dispute – meaning agreement will have to be negotiated via surveyors.

How should you respond if a Notice has been served on you?

The scenario could be the other way round, meaning you are the adjoining owner and a Party Wall Notice has been served on you. What to do? Before you make any rash decisions, it’s worth speaking to a seasoned party wall surveyor to find out what it all means and how your property might be affected.

If you are happy for the works to proceed and can’t foresee any potential problems, you will need to provide a formal written consent notice within 14 days of being served the Notice. It has to be said that it is unusual for adjoining owners to agree to a Party Wall Notice straightaway, mainly because you defacto allow your neighbours to avoid responsibility for any damage caused to your property.

More realistically, you may wish to dispute the Notice (simply by letting 14 days lapse without providing consent) and subsequently agree to share the same surveyor as the building owner. After negotiations, the surveyor will draw up a Party Wall Award – effectively a Schedule of Condition for each property so that any future damage can be attributed.

The Party Wall Surveyor is legally bound to act independently and in the interest of both parties, though the building owner will be liable to pay the costs of the surveyor. Of course, you are also at liberty to instruct your own surveyor.

Written by Annie Button

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