Resolving a Party Wall dispute

It is best to discuss your planned work fully with your neighbours before you serve notice, in writing, about what you plan to do. If you have already ironed out possible snags with your neighbours, this should mean that they will give consent in response to your notice. You do not need to appoint a professional adviser to give the notice on your behalf, but notice must be correct.

Whilst there is no official form for giving notice under the Act, your notice must include the following details:

  • Your own name and address.
  • The building’s address if different to your own.
  • A clear statement that your notice is a notice under the the Party Wall etc. Act (you may want to mention the section(s) concerned).
  • Full details of what you propose to do (including plans where appropriate).
  • When you want to start.

You may deliver the notice in person, or send it by post. Where the neighbouring property is empty, or the owner is not known, you may address the notice to ‘the owner’ of the premises and fix it to a conspicuous part of the premises. You do not need to tell the local authority about your notice. Download party wall forms.

Common Party Wall queries:

When do I serve a notice to my neighbours?

At least two months before the planned starting date for work to the party wall. If you are only working on the boundary or excavating within 3m then you only need to give one month’s notice. The notice is only valid for a year after you serve it. If you do not start within 12 months of the notice, you may need to serve it again.

What happens after I serve a notice?

A person who receives a notice about intended work may either:

  • Give his consent in writing in which case no further party wall agreements are needed.
  • Dissent from the  notice in writing and say they will be appointing a surveyor.
  • Dissent from the notice and ask if they can use your surveyor as an ‘Agreed Surveyor’.
  • In some cases they can give a counter-notice setting out what additional or modified work they would like to be carried out.
  • Iignore it! In which case they will be deemed to have dissented after 14 days and be required to appoint a surveyor.

Before you serve your notices, we recommend that you have all of your drawings, structural calculations and other details ready as the party wall surveyor for your neighbour will ask for these.

What happens if my neighbour and I cannot agree?

The best way of settling any point of difference is by friendly discussion with your neighbour. Any party wall notices and agreements must always be put in writing. A quick chat over the garden fence is NOT satisfactory and in our experience can lead to misunderstanding and disputes.

If your neighbour does not agree to the work in your Notice, you could ask them whether they would be willing to jointly appoint what the Party Wall Act calls an ‘agreed surveyor’ to draw up a ‘party wall award’. Ideally the agreed surveyor should be independent and not be the same person that you intend to employ to supervise your building work.

Alternatively, each neighbour can appoint a party wall surveyor to consider the work and agree a party wall award between them. The two party wall surveyors must nominate a ‘third surveyor’ who would be called in to arbitrate if the two party wall surveyors cannot agree.  The third surveyor does not cost anything until a matter is referred to them. Your party wall surveyor will discuss this with you before making a referral.

In all cases, surveyors appointed to negotiate and prepare an award or party wall agreement must behave impartially and consider the interests of both neighbours. They do not act as advocates for each side.

Who can I appoint as a party wall surveyor?

The term ‘surveyor’ is defined in the Act as any person who is not a party to the matter. This means that you can appoint almost anyone you like to act in this capacity. Chartered Surveyors have accredited training and qualifications and are professionally regulated by RICS. Collier Stevens are qualified chartered building surveyors experienced and trained in party wall matters. Contact us if you need help.

It is suggested that you and your neighbour do not choose the person you have engaged to supervise the building works to be the ‘agreed surveyor’. It is difficult to be the person responsible for ensuring the completion of the work at the same time as giving full regard to the rights of the neighbours.

You cannot act as your own Party Wall Surveyor.  You could appoint your builder or architect if they have the appropriate skills but if it goes wrong it goes very wrong.  Make sure you appoint someone with the right skills and experience.

What does the party wall surveyor do?

The party wall surveyors will consider your proposed work (hey might ask for more information depending on how complicated the work is),  inspect your neighbour’s house and prepare an ‘award’ (sometimes called a ‘Party Wall Agreement’).

This is a legally binding and enforceable document which:

  • Sets out the work that will be carried out and the rights being exercised.
  • Says when and how the work can be carried out (for example, not at weekends if the buildings are domestic properties).
  • Records the condition of next door before the work begins (so that any damage can be properly attributed and made good).
  • Allows access for the surveyors to inspect the works while they’re going on (to see that they are in accordance with the award).
  • May place other obligations such as insurance, protective screens, security for expenses and other directions that are permitted by the Act.
  • Confirm who pays the surveyors costs.

It is a good idea to keep a copy of the award with your property deeds.

Who pays the surveyor's fees?

The surveyors will decide who pays the fees for drawing up the award and for checking that the work has been carried out in accordance with the award. Usually the person who undertakes the work will pay all reasonable costs associated with drawing up the award including the costs of next door’s surveyor.

How much are surveyor's fees if I am doing the building work?

It depends on several things.

  • The location  of the work — for instance fees in central London are greater than those in rural areas.
  • The complexity of the work — for instance a basement will need more engagement than a loft conversion.
  • The quality of the drawings and calculations — if the surveyors keep having to ask for more details because they aren’t very good this takes time and increases fees.

An adjoining owner’s surveyor will probably not be able to tell you what the costs will be until the award is finalised, although he may be able to give an indication and tell you his hourly rate.

Are there any other costs?

Sometimes other professionals are called upon to advise. For instance, structural engineers are sometimes needed to check complex structural calculations and proposals. This often happens when a basement is planned.

The surveyors will decide who pays the fees and include this in the party wall award. Again, it is usually the person doing the work who pays these costs.

Usually enquiries are made to the Land Registry to ensure that notices are correctly served and these costs are also often included in an Award.

Is the Party Wall Agreement final?

The Party Wall Agreement is usually referred to as a Party wall Award. This is final, but either side has 14 days to appeal to the County Court against an award. An appeal should only be made to the County Court if an owner believes that the surveyors have acted beyond their powers or there is a procedural mistake. The 14 days period is absolute — you cannot appeal after this time has expired.

Sometimes, if the work changes or you do something different, the surveyors will need to agree an additional Party Wall Award to cover this.  These are sometimes called “Addendum Awards” but this is not a phrase used in the Party Wall Act.

Who pays for the building works?

In nearly all cases the building owner who initiated the work pays for it. This makes sense because nearly always the work is for their sole benefit.

Sometimes though, it may be necessary for the adjoining owner to pay part of the cost. For example, where work to a shared garden wall is needed because of defects or lack of repair for which the adjoining owner may be jointly responsible; or where an adjoining owner requests that additional work should be done.

In these cases the party wall surveyors deal with apportionment of the costs of the work and include this in their Award.

What if my neighbour will not cooperate?

If a neighbour ignores a party wall notice then a dispute is deemed to have arisen 14 days after the notice is served. You or your surveyor must then write to them and ask them to appoint a surveyor. If after a further 10 days they have not appointed a surveyor you (or your surveyor) must appoint a party wall surveyor on their behalf so that the procedure can go proceed. You cannot appoint an agreed surveyor in this instance. Contact us if you need help.

Can I access next door to do my work?

Under the Party Wall Act, an adjoining occupier must, when necessary, allow you access to undertake your work — but only the work which is notifiable under the Party Wall Act. You have no right of access to do any other work. Your surveyor will be able to explain this to you.

Can I ask the person doing the work for a deposit against damage?

If there is a risk that you will be left in difficulties if the building owner stops work at an inconvenient stage, you can ask him, before he starts work, to place an agreed sum of money in an escrow account, or to make other arrangements to ensure works are completed or any compensation that is due can be paid.  This is called “Security for Expenses”.

The details of this will be resolved by the party wall surveyors and included in the Party Wall Award. The surveyors will agree the reasonable amount and only they can authorise its use and its release. The amount will be proportionate to the work and the risk and for small work they may agree a very small amount indeed. You must ask for security for expenses before works start, you cannot request security after commencement.