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THE PARTY WALL etc. ACT 1996

Alex French is a member of the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors.

Click here to download a free explanatory booklet that helps to clarify the Party Wall etc. Act 1996.

What does the Party Wall Act do?

  • The Act came into force on 1 July 1997 and applies throughout England and Wales.

  • It provides a framework for preventing and resolving disputes in relation to party walls, boundary walls and excavations near neighbouring buildings.

  • Anyone in England and Wales who intends to carry out the kind of work described in the Act must give Adjoining Owners notice of their intentions.

  • The Adjoining Owner (the person who receives notification under the Act of proposed adjacent work) can agree with the Building Owner's (the person who wishes to carry out the work) proposals or reach agreement on changes in the way the works are to be carried out, and in their timing. Where there is no written consent or agreement, the Act provides for the resolution of 'disputes'.

What does it cover?

  • Various work that is going to be carried out directly to an existing party wall or structure.

  • New building at or astride the boundary line between properties.

  • Excavation within 3 or 6 metres of a neighbouring building(s) or structure(s), depending on the depth of the excavation or proposed foundations.

    What is not covered under the Act?

    Some works on a party wall may be so minor that service of notice under the Act would be generally regarded as not necessary e.g.

  • Drilling into a party wall to fix plugs and screws for ordinary wall units or shelving

  • Cutting into a party wall to add or replace recessed electric wiring and sockets

  • Re-plastering

How do I inform the Adjoining Owner or owners?
Whilst there is no official form for giving notice under the Act, your notice must include the following details:

  • Your own name and address (joint owners must all be named, e.g. Mr A & Mrs B Owner)

  • The address of the building to be worked on (this may be different from your main or current address)

  • A full description of what you propose to do (it may be helpful to include plans but you must still describe the works)

  • When you propose to start (which must not be before the relevant notice period has elapsed).
  • The notice should be dated and it is advisable to include a clear statement that it is a notice under the provisions of the Act. You do not need to tell the local authority about your notice.

How long in advance do I have to serve the notice?
At least two months before the planned starting date for work to the party wall. The Adjoining Owner may agree to allow works to start earlier but is not obliged to even when agreement on the works is reached. The notice is only valid for a year, so do not serve it too long before you wish to start.

What happens after I serve notice?

  • If, after a period of 14 days from the service of your notice, the person receiving the notice has done nothing, a dispute is regarded as having arisen.

  • A person who receives notice about intended work may, within one month, give a counter-notice setting out what additional or modified work he would like to be carried out for his own benefit. A person who receives a notice, and intends to give a counter-notice, should let the Building Owner know within 14 days.

  • If you cannot reach agreement with the Adjoining Owners, the next best thing is to agree with them on appointing what the Act calls an "Agreed Surveyor" to draw up an "Award".

  • The Agreed Surveyor should not be the same person that you intend to employ or have already engaged to supervise your building work.

  • Alternatively, each owner can appoint a surveyor to draw up the award together. The two appointed surveyors will select a third surveyor (who would be called in only if the two appointed surveyors cannot agree).

  • In all cases, surveyors appointed under the dispute resolution procedure of the Act must consider the interests and rights of both owners and draw up an award impartially.

What does the surveyor do?
The surveyor(s) will prepare a party wall award. This is a document which:

  • Sets out the work that will be carried out.

  • Says when and how the work is to be carried out (e.g. not at weekends if the buildings are domestic properties).

  • Specifies any additional work required (e.g. necessary protection to prevent damage).

  • Contains a set of drawings showing the proposed work, where excavations are carried out and foundation depths.

  • Contains a record of the condition of the adjoining property before the work begins (so that any damage to the adjoining land or buildings can be properly attributed and made good).

  • Allows access for the surveyor(s) to inspect the works while they're going on (to see that they are in accordance with the award).

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

Who pays the surveyor's fees?
The surveyor (or 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 Building Owner will pay all costs associated with drawing up the award if the works are solely for his benefit.

Is the surveyor’s award final?
The Award is final and binding unless it is amended by the Court. Each owner 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’ determination is fundamentally wrong.

Who pays for the building works?
The general principle in the Act is that the Building Owner who initiated the work pays for it if the works are solely for his benefit. However, there are cases where the Adjoining Owner may pay part of the cost, e.g.

  • Where work to a party wall is needed because of defects or lack of repair for which the Adjoining Owner may be responsible (in full or in part).

  • Where an Adjoining Owner requests that additional work should be done for his benefit.

Does the Act change who owns the party wall?
No. The Act does not change the ownership of any wall, nor does it change the position of any boundary. Boundaries can still run through the centre of a wall, so that each owner may technically own half of a wall. However, it may help in understanding the principles of the Act if owners consider themselves joint owners of the whole of a party wall rather than the sole owner of half or part of it.

The Act sets out what rights an owner has in relation to works to a party wall and what he is obliged to do before he can exercise those rights.

Can the Act be used to resolve a boundary dispute?
No. The Act does not contain any provision that could be used to settle a boundary line dispute. Such disputes can be resolved through the courts or through alternative dispute resolution procedures (which may be simpler, quicker and cheaper), for example mediation, decision by an independent expert or arbitration.

Does the Act supersede common law rights?
Yes, but only in relation to works covered by the Act, and only when the correct notices have been given and the procedures correctly followed.

Does the Building Owner have to wait for the full one or two months after serving a notice before starting work?
No, so long as the Adjoining Owner agrees, in writing, to the work starting earlier than as stated in the notice.

The main thing you need to consider is whether your planned work might have consequences for the structural strength and support functions of the party wall as a whole, or cause damage to the Adjoining Owner’s side of the wall. If you are in doubt about whether your planned work requires a notice, please call AFA and we will be happy to provide you with professional and confidential advice.

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