Missing? Party wall problems

Occasionally a situation arises like one we dealt with this week where there is an absent freeholder. Their absence does not preclude the necessity to serve party wall notices (templates available here) or to follow party wall procedure even though the inevitable outcome will be that a surveyor will need to be appointed under section 10.4 of the act.

So what should you do? In the first instance we recommend proper enquiry at the Land Registry. This should turn up a title deed with some freeholders details. In this case it was a limited company, so our next port of call was Companies House website. This didn’t show any record of a company in the name of the freeholder either extant or dissolved. We then Googled the address of the freeholder as shown at HM Land Registry and identified the current occupants. They happened to be solicitors. Contacting them confirmed that they had no knowledge of the freehold company.

So, what next? The Party Wall Act allows a party wall notice to be served by fixing it to the neighbouring building. We pinned it to the front door and took a record photograph. We also handed a notice to a person on the premises and for good measure posted a copy to the address at the Land Registry.

The timescales within the act will now operate. There will be no response within 14 days so there will be deemed dissent. No surveyor will be appointed in a further 10 days so after 24 days of knowing there will be no response the building owner can make an appointment on the freeholder’s behalf and a party wall agreement can be prepared in the usual manner.

Of course, one could throw caution to the wind and proceed unlawfully without notice, but that is not recommended. Getting party wall procedure such as this wrong can be risky, especially if, out of left field the freeholder suddenly breaks cover – if that happens it will be necessary to demonstrate how the Act has been complied with.

We would recommend engaging a party wall surveyor to deal with a situation like this – in any event you will need to appoint a surveyor to deal with the absent freeholder issue so you may as well appoint one at the outset rather than hang on.

In most residential cases we can deal with this within our low cost, fixed price party wall fees service.

(Originally published by Steven Way, 22 March 2012)