Party walls

Party Walls & The Party Wall Act 1996 – Guide for Property Owners

Many property owners, property developers and investors and have never heard of party walls or the Party Wall Act of 1996. However, if you fall in to this category and you decide to carry out works to a wall that you share with a neighbour it is more than likely that you’ll need to get up to speed with your rights and responsibilities… and quickly!

The fact is that if you share a wall with an adjacent property you have a legal responsibility that comes from the Party Wall etc Act 1996, particularly if you are planning to carry out certain building works, alterations or excavations to that shared party wall.

The Party Wall Act 1996, which actually came into force in 1997, gives rights and responsibilities to the owners of party walls, whichever side of the wall you are on.

What does the Party Wall etc Act 1996 Cover?

The Party Wall Act comes into effect if a property owner is contemplating carrying out building works or alterations on a “relevant structure” – and you should note that this does not just mean the wall between two adjoined / semi-detached properties.

It is important to understand that the Party Wall Act covers many different scenarios and types of party wall… for example:

  • Party Walls

    It covers party walls which may be part of only one building but which is on the boundary line between two properties.

  • Common Walls

    A wall which is common to two properties, including a wall built by the owner of one property and a neighbour who subsequently builds another butting up to it.

  • Garden Walls

    A garden wall which is used to separate the properties but is not part of any building.

  • Floors & ceilings

    Floors and ceilings of flats.

  • Excavations

    Excavations near to a neighbouring property.

Quite a broad spectrum of activity to account for.

My Building Works are Covered by the Party Wall Act… What Should I do?

What if your proposed building works, alterations or excavations are covered by one of these party wall scenarios?

Your first and probably best strategy should be to try the neighbourly approach… this could be the quickest and most cost effective way of reaching a mutual agreement with your neighbour.

Chat to your neighbour, the occupier of the adjoining property, and explain what you are proposing to do, how long it is likely to take, what the possible impact on them could be, and importantly make every effort to reach a friendly agreement.

Even when your proposed works require a formal party wall notice to be served, it is always better to discuss the scope of your intended works informally, listen carefully to what your neighbour has to say, and if possible make relevant amendments to your proposals before you serve the party wall notice.

What Building Works can be Carried out Outside the Party Wall Act?

Before going any further, it’s important to understand that there are certain kinds of works to party walls that can be carried out without giving formal notice or getting permission.

These tend to involve fairly simple alterations and can include putting up shelves and wall units, re-plastering and electrical rewiring.

What Works are Included Within the Scope of the Party Wall Act?

As a rule of thumb however, works to party walls that do require a formal notice and the adjoining owner’s permission are those that might have an effect on the structural integrity or support of the party wall, or which might cause damage to the neighbours’ side of the wall if things went wrong.

Works to party walls that are likely to require permission include the following:

  • Demolition & Reconstruction

    Demolishing and/or rebuilding the party wall or party walls.

  • Increasing height or thickness

    Increasing the height or thickness of the wall.

  • Damp proof Course

    Inserting a damp proof course in to the wall.

  • New Load bearing Elements

    Cutting into the party wall and inserting load-bearing beams or other structural elements.

  • Underpinning

    Underpinning party walls.

  • Excavations within 3m

    Excavations within three metres of a neighbouring building where the excavation will go below the bottom of the foundations of the neighbouring building.

  • Excavations within 6m

    Excavations within six metres of a neighbouring building where the excavation will go below a line drawn 45 degrees downwards from the bottom of the foundations of the neighbouring building.

If you have any doubts about whether your works fall within the Party Wall Act it is far better to be safe than sorry and seek specialist advice from the local building control office, a professional surveyor or architect with specialist knowledge of party walls.

What Information Needs to be Included in a Party Wall Notice?

If you have reached the point where you need to serve notice on your neighbour… what information do you need to include?

The party wall notice that you serve on your neighbour must include some key facts including:

  • Whos undertaking the works

    Information regarding the owners of the property undertaking the works.

  • full address

    The full address of the property.

  • adjoining owners

    The names of all the owners of the adjoining property/properties.

  • Description of works

    A brief description of the proposed works affecting the party wall.

  • Start Date

    The proposed start date.

  • Party Wall Act

    A clear statement that the notice is being served under the Party Wall etc Act 1996.

  • Date of Notice

    The date that the notice is served.

  • Excavations Details

    If the notice is for excavation works, a drawing showing the position and depth of the excavation in relation to the party wall.

It is important to remember that if any of the required information is missing from the party wall notice, then it may be considered invalid and any subsequent party wall award will therefore also be invalid.

Party Walls… How to Serve Notice

Once you’ve included the correct information in the notice it then needs to be formally served, but how do you go about doing this, and who should receive it?

The building owner intending to carry out the proposed works must serve a written notice on the owners of the adjoining property or properties at least two months before the proposed start date.

Each neighbouring party should then respond in writing, either giving their consent to the works or declining to do so.

Be aware that if that neighbouring party does nothing within 14 days of receiving the notice then the notice goes into dispute.

In any event, no work can commence until all neighbouring parties have agreed, in writing, to the original notice or any revised notice.

Not Just Party Walls… What About New Boundary Walls?

If the building owners proposed works involve the construction of a new boundary wall up to or astride the boundary line between the properties, the process is a similar one to that described above, but in this case the notice needs to be served at least one month before the proposed date for the commencement of the works.

Neighbouring parties must give their written agreement within 14 days for walls astride the boundary, but no formal agreement is required for a wall up to the boundary line.

In the latter case the neighbour just needs not to object in writing.

What Happens if Neighbours Cannot Agree?

If agreement cannot be reached between the neighbouring parties, specialist party wall surveyors are appointed whose role it is to review the proposals, consider the alternatives and then make an impartial decision on how to proceed.

The party wall surveyor can be a single surveyor whose appointment is acceptable to all parties or each party may wish to appoint their own surveyor who will act on their behalf.

If expense is a consideration, appointing a joint party wall surveyor who is acceptable to all parties is usually the cheaper option.

Once a decision has been reached all parties have 14 days within which to appeal to a County Court.

Once agreement on the party wall proposals has been reached all work to the party walls must comply with the notice and all agreements should be retained to make sure that a record of the granted permission is kept.

This is good practice as subsequent purchasers of the property will probably wish to establish that the works were carried out and completed in accordance with the requirements of the Party Wall Act 1996.

Party Walls & Expert Property Development Solutions

As leading independent property investment specialists Investment Property Partners offer expert advice and support to clients across our specialist areas of expertise helping them to achieve their investment objectives.

If you are a property owner, property developer or investor looking at development works involving party walls and potentially contentious boundary issues please contact our property experts today to discuss how Investment Property Partners can help you.

Further Reading…

More information about party walls and party wall agreements… here →

Download a copy of the RICS information on party walls… RICS →