If you are a business owner in the UK planning any construction works on a building adjoining one or more neighbouring properties, it is essential to understand your legal rights and responsibilities under the Party Wall Act 1996. The same applies if you are the adjoining owner and your neighbour is proposing to carry out alterations that affect a shared wall or structure in properties such as terraced or semi-detached houses or blocks of flats.
The Party Wall Act is a very important piece of legislation. As one party wall expert explains, “It is designed to help prevent construction-related disagreements between neighbours before building work is started and provides a clear legal framework for resolving any disputes that may arise in relation to party walls and other party structures.”
While it may seem daunting at first, getting to grips with the key provisions of the Act and seeking professional advice will ensure you fully comply with the law and avoid potential pitfalls that could delay your project and incur extra costs.
The Party Wall Act includes provisions to protect the rights of both the building owner wishing to make alterations as well as all adjoining property owners whose property could be adversely impacted by any construction works. There is a clear statutory process that must be followed including notifying adjoining neighbours and allowing them to comment, and the ultimate aim is to ensure that the works are undertaken in a fair and reasonable manner, protecting everyone’s property interests.
Specifically, three main types of works are covered in the Act:
It’s important to note that not all works on a party wall are subject to party wall legislation. Minor, non-structural alterations such as plastering, painting and decorating, electrics or drilling holes for shelving would not require formal notice under the Act. But when in doubt, it’s best to check.
For more major works covered under Sections 1, 2 and 6 or the Party Wall Act, a clear process must be followed by the building owner to gain consent from neighbours who could be impacted. The key steps are as follows:
You must serve a formal written notice to all adjoining property owners at least one month (two months’ for work under Section 2) before your proposed start date. The notice should include an outline of the proposed works along with timings and other details. Please note that this is a highly complex area of law and, while not a legal requirement, it’s a best practice to appoint an experienced party wall surveyor to work with you.
Once the notices have been served, adjoining owners can either consent in writing to the proposed works or dissent if they have concerns. Written consent must be received within 14 days of the notice being served. If they consent, you can proceed once the notice period has expired. If they don’t consent or don’t reply, you are deemed to be in dispute, in which case an independent party wall surveyor must be appointed.
They will prepare an official party wall agreement (also known as a party wall award) which will set binding terms, conditions and rights regarding the works. The surveyor may inspect the adjoining property before works commence to record its condition in a Schedule of Condition, as a point of reference should any disputes arise at a later date.
The final award is needed to allow the works to legally proceed whilst protecting adjoining neighbours’ rights and setting parameters. If an agreement can’t be reached, a third surveyor may be appointed to decide.
Party wall legislation is not for the faint-hearted, and any business owner should seek professional advice and guidance in order to be in full compliance with the law. As a starting point, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has published a detailed guide that you can access here and an explanatory government booklet on the Party Wall Act is available here.
It is vital to understand that ignoring the Party Wall Act by not properly serving notice or gaining consent in the proper manner can cause significant issues and risks later on. Adjoining property owners could apply for injunctions to halt unapproved works, causing delays and inconveniences to your project, and there are financial penalties for non-compliance.
By contrast, following the due process shows you have acted considerately and taken steps to protect your adjoining neighbours’ interests and rights. Having a formal party wall agreement in place safeguards your position going forward. If any cracks or damage should occur to the building, you have documented evidence of the pre-existing condition of the adjoining property. While it involves some extra steps initially, compliance with the Party Wall Act prevents neighbours from unreasonably delaying or blocking works and provides a clear procedure if disputes do arise later on.
Without the protection of party wall legislation, on the other hand, you are laying yourself wide open to unwanted and potentially unreasonable neighbourly interference. Every aspect of your project could come under scrutiny including your choice of contractor, nuisance arising from noise and mess, the location of the skip and much else besides.
In summary, the Party Wall Act provides useful protections for both building owners and their neighbours when works are planned that affect shared structures and boundaries. By understanding your obligations and obtaining specialist guidance, you can ensure your construction project proceeds smoothly whilst safeguarding your legal position. Following the proper procedures shows you are a considerate neighbour, as well as giving you recourse if any disputes do crop up. While it involves some extra planning initially, complying with party wall legislation avoids headaches further down the line.