The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 provides a framework for preventing and resolving disputes in relation to party walls, boundary walls and excavations near neighbouring buildings.
A building owner proposing to start work covered by the Act must give adjoining owners notice of their intentions, in the way set down in the Act. Adjoining owners can agree or disagree with what is proposed. Where they disagree, the Act provides a mechanism for resolving disputes. This mechanism involves the preparation and service of an 'award'.
An award is a document which describes how and when the party wall works are to proceed. It also confirms other relevant matters such as any compensation or access rights awarded.
Awards are produced by either a single agreed surveyor or by a two-surveyor tribunal, with one surveyor being duly appointed by each respective owner.
The Act is separate from obtaining planning permission or building regulations approval.
The main types of party walls are:
A wall that stands on the lands of two (or more) owners and forms part of a building. This wall can be part of one building only, or separate buildings belonging to different owners.
A wall that stands on the lands of two owners but does not form part of a building, such as a garden wall but not including timber fences.
A wall that is on one owner’s land but is used by two (or more) owners to separate their buildings.
The Act also uses the expression ‘party structure’. This could be a wall or floor partition or other structure separating buildings or parts of buildings in different ownership, such as with flats.
The Act covers:
Excavations near to and below the foundation level of any neighbouring buildings.
New building works on or at the boundary of two properties.
Work to an existing party wall or party structure.
'An Englishman's home is his castle'. Therefore, you would imagine you could build whatever you like on your own land, subject to obtaining any statutory approvals. Well, yes and no. Even if you are building something on your land, you may fall within the legal requirements to be found within the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. This is because your neighbours also have certain rights, such as a right of support for their property or structures. By undertaking your building works, you could be compromising their rights and could damage their property or structures as a result. We offer detailed advice in relation to the Act, when it applies and also how to plan your development work in ways to potentially take the works outside the Act. The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 is a legal requirement and failure to comply with it can lead to court action being taken against the offending party.
The Act applies to certain excavations within 'prescribed distances'. These distances are 3.0m & 6.0m. Therefore, if your new foundations are likely to be less than 3.0m from your neighbour's property or structures and are likely to go lower than their foundations, you will need to serve notice on your neighbour under the Act. Even at a distance of up to 6.0m away, you may still need to serve notice on your neighbour. However, this tends to apply for deep excavations such as certain types of piling or new basement works. We always advise on serving formal notice(s) on your neighbours where there is any doubt at all, as failure to serve proper notice under the Act could lead to a formal injunction and legal action being taken against the offending party. The required notices are served under section 6(1) and section 6(2) of the Act.
Building On/Near To A Boundary
You will need to serve notice under the Act if you plan to build on the boundary or 'line of junction' with your neighbour's land, or if you intend to build a new wall partially on their land. By serving notice to build up to and on the line of junction, you will receive the benefit of placing simple foundations over the boundary line and on your neighbour's land. But perhaps the most significant benefit you will enjoy will be the fair, reasonable and required temporary access onto & over their land to actually build certain parts of your new structure. Where you serve notice on your neighbour to build onto their land, by building part of a new wall over the boundary line, then your neighbours can dissent (object). You would then have to build the wall entirely on your own land, on but not over, the line of junction. The required notices are served under section 1(2) & section 1(5) of the Act.
Works To A Party Wall/Structure
This is a complex area of the Act, as it involves many building operations that potentially require formal notice(s) to be served on your neighbours. We always advise seeking professional advice if you intend to undertake any building works on a party wall. A party wall is basically a wall that separates two properties; it is a shared wall. Works that fall within the requirements of the Act include: raising a party wall, thickening it, insertions such as steel beams within it, temporarily opening it up to the elements, inserting flashings and reducing the height of it. Other shared/dividing 'structures' between properties are also relevant, including dividing floors between properties. The required notices are served under section 2(2) of the Act.
We undertake and strongly recommend the recording of a schedule of condition, even where no formal dispute exists.
This document will protect adjoining owners, as it will record the condition of their property prior to any works commencing; it will also protect building owners undertaking building work from any spurious claims for damage against them, which could otherwise be difficult to disprove.
Please contact us if you are a building owner and you wish to undertake any work falling under the Act. Please contact us if you are an adjoining owner and your neighbour intends to undertake any party wall work whether they have, or have not served formal notice(s) on you.