Since it came into force The Party Wall Act has provided building owners with certain rights and obligations in relation to party walls and similar structures. One of those obligations is to ensure that the procedures laid down in the Act are followed in a disciplined manner. So, how do you know if your proposed work is covered by the Act?
Any work which cuts in or adds additional load to a party wall will be covered but you should also note the ‘etc.’ in the name of the Act. It’s there because the Act does not just cover work to party walls but also excavations adjacent to them and adjacent can mean up to 6 metres away. Projects which typically come under the scope of the Act include loft and basement conversions, extensions and damp-proofing. Minor works to the party wall such as drilling small holes for fixings, inserting recessed electrical cables or sockets and re-plastering are not covered.
The process starts with the serving of notice by the party who plans to undertake the work (known as the Building Owner). There are 3 different types of Party Wall Notice depending upon whether you are altering an existing party wall, excavating close to a party wall or seeking permission to build a new one astride or up to a boundary.
On receipt of the notice your neighbour (known as the Adjoining Owner) will have a big decision to make; to consent to the work or not? If you receive their written consent then that is the end of the process. If the Adjoining Owner is concerned about the affect of the works on their property they are unlikely to consent. Unfortunately many adjoining owners confuse this decision with the planning process and refuse to consent in the mistaken belief that it will stop the work going ahead.
If the Adjoining Owner has not consented within 14 days then a ‘dispute’ is deemed to have arisen under the Act and the two parties must appoint surveyors to resolve that dispute. The Act allows for the appointment of a single ‘Agreed’ surveyor but that route can only be instigated by the Adjoining Owner.
Assuming the Adjoining Owner does not consent, the appointment of an ‘Agreed’ surveyor is the most appropriate route in many cases; particularly with smaller projects. To encourage the adjoining owner to concur in your choice of surveyor the information which you provide should be complete and delivered early. A neighbourly chat at the inception of any building plans gets things off on the right foot.
Another common misconception is that silence on the part of the adjoining owner is the green light for you to start work at the end of the notice period. The opposite is actually true. Should the Adjoining Owner ignore the original notice the next step for you or your surveyor is to write to them again stating that unless they appoint a surveyor within 10 days you will make that appointment on their behalf. If the adjoining owner continues to keep their council then you should proceed to make that appointment with all the care that the Adjoining Owner would have taken if only they could have been bothered.
Once the two surveyors, or the ‘Agreed Surveyor’, have been appointed they will start preparing the Party Wall Award. This is a legal document produced by the surveyors on behalf of their appointing owners and sets out the rights and responsibilities of the respective owners. Items covered will include the details of the proposed work, rights of access, insurance, working hours and what happens if any damage occurs. The surveyors should do what they can at this stage to minimise the risk of any damage occurring to the Adjoining Owner’s property.
The Award will be accompanied by a Schedule of Condition. This is a written document, often supported by sketches and photographs, recording the current condition of the Adjoining Owner’s property. It may be referred to later in the process to ensure that any damage is properly attributed. Once the contents of the Award are agreed it is signed by the surveyors, witnessed and served upon the two owners. There is a 14 day appeal period although by this stage the Building Owner is usually chomping at the bit and commences work immediately.
Thankfully most projects are completed without any serious problems but should any damage occur the surveyors will visit the site and make an assessment. Most awards give the Adjoining Owner the choice of allowing the contractor to undertake repairs or receiving the money and sorting it out themselves. The surveyors should revisit the adjoining property at the end of the work to sign off the schedule although in reality this seldom happens.
Prepared for Diyfixit by Justin Burns BSc MRICS of
Peter Barry Party Wall Surveyors