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Renovation expert Michael Holmes
If you’re planning building work near an adjoining property in England or Wales, you must observe the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. It’s designed to help you undertake work, such as gaining access to neighbouring properties, while protecting the interests of your neighbours.
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The Act covers shared walls between semi-detached and terraced houses, or structures such as the floors between flats or maisonettes, plus garden boundary walls. In addition to alterations affecting the structures directly, the effect of any excavations within 3-6 metres of the boundary can be covered by the Act if the foundations are considered to be likely to have an impact (based on depth).
The most commonly used rights granted are:
If building work affects a party structure, you must serve notice at least two months before work begins. In the case of excavations, you must give at least one month’s notice. Work can begin once an agreement has been entered into. You need to write to all adjoining homeowners, stating your name and address, a full description of the work, including the property address and start date, plus a statement that it is a Party Wall Notice under the provisions of the Act.
It’s always a good idea to discuss proposals in advance of serving notice. If you get your neighbour on board, they may simply consent to the work (but you’ll need this in writing) and you’ll incur no fees (see next question). You will still have to comply with the terms of the Act. For example, avoiding unnecessary inconvenience, providing temporary protection for adjacent buildings and properties where necessary and compensating your neighbour for any loss or damage if it is caused by the work.
If they refuse or fail to respond, you are deemed to be in dispute. You can contact the owner and try to negotiate an agreement. They may write to you and issue a counter-notice, requesting certain alterations to the work, or set conditions such as working hours. If you can reach agreement, put the terms in writing and exchange letters, and work can begin.
If you fail to reach an agreement, you’ll need to appoint a surveyor to arrange a Party Wall Award that will set out the details of the work. Hopefully, your neighbour will agree to use the same surveyor as you – an ‘agreed surveyor’ so it will only incur a single set of fees. However, your neighbour has the right to appoint their own surveyor at your expense. If each side’s surveyor still cannot agree, then you have to pay for a third surveyor to adjudicate.
If you require an Award, it can cost from £400-£600 per surveyor. If you have several adjoining homeowners, each insisting on using their own surveyor, the fees can be quite considerable, so reasoned negotiation is always advisable.
If you fail to issue a Party Wall Notice before the relevant work begins, or fail to secure a Party Wall Award, your neighbour can serve an injunction to stop or prevent the work that will affect their property, until the Award is in place. If you comply with the Act, however, they can’t prevent the work from going ahead, or deny you access to their property to undertake the work.
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 only applies to England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland rely on common law rather than legislation to settle party wall disputes. Neighbouring owners can negotiate to allow work to proceed – and access can be forced through the courts if necessary.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (rics.org, 0870 333 1600) has a find-a-surveyor service.
Party Wall semi-detached house
Party Wall flats