Party walls – your questions answered

You hear a lot from Collier Stevens about Party Wall Notices and Agreements. Here’s a basic summary of what you need to know about Party Walls – what they are, what the paperwork is all about, and when it’s needed.

Should I bother ?

Yes! The party wall process places a statutory obligation on a person doing building work to notify their neighbour if it affects a party wall. If so, they must enter into a party wall agreement. It is as important as planning consent or building regulation approval. If you don’t do it, your neighbour could get an injunction stopping you from carrying out your building work.

What is a party wall?

In simple terms, a ‘party wall’, is a wall which divides two properties; a party structure could be a ceiling/floor which divides properties such as flats; and a party fence wall is a boundary wall astride the line of junction. If you want to carry out building work which affects any of these, then you may need to give your neighbour a Party Wall Notice.

However, notice is sometimes needed where there is no direct contact and where structures are completely in your land. If you are carrying out any excavations, for example, forming foundations, reducing ground levels, or constructing a basement, you need to check if your neighbour’s property is within three metres of your work. If it is, you probably need to serve a notice.

Take a look at this flowchart to work if you should have/need to serve a notice.

Party wall Process Flowchart From Notice to Party Wall Award

What type of work requires a Party Wall Agreement?

Any work that can impact the above. Loft conversions and extensions, basements, rebuilding or repairing a boundary wall; excavation within three metres of your neighbour’s property, which could include new drainage (even if you are not attached to them); building on, or up to the boundary between neighbours.

How do I issue a Party Wall Notice?

You can issue your own notices and the Party Wall Act is specific about the information they must contain. Get it wrong, and the notices will not be valid. Although you can send a letter, standard forms are usually used. These are available on our website. Make sure you get the information on the notice correct. You may also need to serve different notices for different sections of the Party Wall Act.

Remember to serve a notice to all neighbours with an interest of longer than 12 months. If you have a block of flats next door, this may mean each flat and the freeholder. Check you are giving the required (in most cases) two months’ notice before you start work.

For more help, you could engage an experienced RICS Chartered Surveyor like us. Remember if the notices are wrong, or do not contain the right information they will not be valid. If you have to start again, the two month notice period also starts again. If your neighbour dissents from your notice you will have to appoint a party wall surveyor. The Act says you cannot act as your own party wall surveyor. If you do not appoint a surveyor then your neighbour can do this for you.

What do party wall surveyors do?

The party wall surveyor will look over your plans, check the notices are OK and may ask for more details or clarifications to make sure that the work is unlikely to cause damage to your neighbour’s buildings. The surveyor will visit your neighbour’s property and agree a record of its condition before your work starts. They will come to agreement and serve what is known as a Party Wall Award. This will set out the works that are authorised and what happens if something were to go wrong. It is a binding, legally enforceable agreement.

The Award may also include direction as to how the work is undertaken, access to your neighbour, the need for financial security, what will happen if damage is caused and will deal with any costs, including surveyors fees. In most cases you will be responsible for your neighbour’s costs.

If the surveyors cannot agree, then they will refer the matter to a ‘Third Surveyor’ for arbitration. The third surveyor will prepare and serve a binding party wall award. (sometimes this gets called a “third party wall award” – this is erroneous and no such thing exists).

I have received a party wall notice, what do I do?

Don’t ignore it! The party wall notices will tell you that your neighbour is planning to carry out some building works that may affect your property or boundary walls.

Within 14 days, you must reply in writing to confirm whether you agree to the work stated in the notice, or dissent from the notice. If you don’t, you will automatically have dissented and within a further 10 days you must appoint a surveyor. If you do not, then your neighbour will appoint one for you. You may be able to agree with your neighbour to use just one surveyor to act for you both.

Can I stop the works or appeal a party wall award?

The Party Wall Act grants statutory rights to work on a party wall or near to your property, so providing these are adhered to, you cannot use the Party Wall Act to stop any works. Instead you will need to object on planning permission grounds. You can appeal the Party Wall Award in the County Court within 14 days of it being served.

Can I get compensation?

Not usually, but if your neighbour uses a part of a party wall that was built by you, he may have to compensate you for the cost of building it.

What happens if damage is caused to my property?

The Party Wall Award will detail how any damage is to be made good. The surveyors will agree the work and liability and your neighbour can do the repair works. Alternatively, you can ask for a payment in lieu so that you can carry out the repair works.

Any more questions?

Do you have questions about party walls that haven’t been answered here and want to speak to a party wall surveyor?? Get in touch.

Collier Stevens – Party Wall Surveyors in Hythe, Kent and Chislehurst, London

(Originally published by Steven Way 22 November 2017)