Don’t overlook Party Wall procedure

When you are thinking of undertaking building work, it is quite usual to obtain Building Regulation Approval and Planning Consent. What is often overlooked, however, is the statutory obligation under the Party Wall etc Act. to get party wall agreement and consent and this can often cause a problem.

Often tucked away on building regulation information and approvals or on a drawing, there is a note to say “party wall consent required”, but then what?

If you are undertaking building work to a party wall or digging holes within 3m of a neighbour then it is quite possible that the work requires a notice to be served. Typical work includes excavating to lay foundations, building an extension, removing chimney breasts and building a loft conversion.

Image of building work requiring party wall agreement

Serving notice

The Act says you have to serve a notice on any affected neighbours advising them of your work and give them 14 days to consent to the work or, alternatively, to dispute the work and require a party wall award or agreement to be entered into.

Your neighbour cannot stop you doing the work, but they can require a formal agreement to be put in place to cover how the work will be done and how any damage that may be caused to their property will be made good.

After 14 days, if your neighbour has not responded, they are deemed to have dissented and are required to appoint a surveyor. Should they not appoint a surveyor quickly, then you can appoint one for them after a further 10 days.

Although you can serve party wall notices yourself, it is important that these are accurate and correct as any error can invalidate the entire process and mean you will have to start again.

Appointing a surveyor and fees

We recommend that you appoint a local Chartered Surveyor who specialises in this type of work to ensure that your position is not compromised and your building work can progress effectively. It is true that a party wall agreement can add several thousand pounds to your costs as you are also liable for your neighbour’s fees.

Your own surveyor should be able to agree a fee with you at the outset.

Your neighbour, or ‘adjoining owner’, is free to appoint whichever surveyor they want, whether you agree or not – this means that you have no control over who is selected and, as the Act requires that your neighbour’s surveyor’s reasonable costs are met by the party doing the building work (the building owner) it follows that you have no control over the cost either.

You can expect the fees for an adjoining owner’s surveyor to be similar to your own and, of course, if there are several neighbours there may well be several fees to pay.

Notice has to be given to every neighbour with an interest of greater than 12 months in their property and so this could mean, in the case of flats next door, that each flat owner has to receive a notice as well as the freeholder.  Each of these “owners” is free to appoint their own surveyor.

You can mitigate your costs by ensuring that all appropriate information is available at the outset, that notices are served in good time and  by trying to agree with your neighbours to use one party wall surveyor as an “Agreed Surveyor”.

It is usual for two surveyors to prepare and agree their award within approximately 6 weeks of notices being served. The speed of the process usually depends on the speed at which your neighbour responds, and the Agreed Surveyor may well be able to get the paperwork in place much quicker than this.

Don’t try to save money by ignoring the Act

Whatever you do you should not be tempted to disregard the provisions of the Act in an attempt to save money. Proceeding with notifiable work, without the appropriate notices, consents and agreements in place is a dangerous course of action quite apart from being unlawful.

Neighbours can and will obtain injunctions preventing the work from progressing until the appropriate procedures have been followed, and previously friendly relationships quickly deteriorate. This, of course, will cause significant time delay as well as significant additional costs.

Courts take a dim view of “didn’t know I had to get this done”, “I thought the builder did that” or “I forgot to serve notices”. It is your responsibility as the building owner to make sure the right documents are in place, not the builders, not the architects (although both should know enough to tell you when they are needed) and not the planners or building control.

Should you require further information regarding the need to serve party wall notices then please contact us. We don’t bite, initial enquiries are always free and we won’t take you for a ride!

You could also read our blog about our Fixed Fee Service.

(Originally published by Steve Way, 26 October 2011)