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What is a party wall?

The main types of party wall 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 boundary 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.

It can also apply to a separating floor in a block of flats – party structure.

Often, it’s quite simple to spot a shared party structure, such as a wall between two terrace properties, but equally it can be difficult to spot shared boundaries!

The Party Wall etc Act 1996 – (PWA 1996)

The Party Wall etc Act 1996 provides a procedure to follow, and permits owners to carry out certain specific works, whilst at the same time protecting the interests of anyone else who may be affected by that work.

It came into force on 1 July 1997, taking the previous Party Wall legislation, which applied to London, and extended it to England and Wales. The Act does not apply to Scotland & Northern Ireland.

It is designed to avoid, or minimise, disputes by making sure property owners notify adjoining owners in advance of certain proposed works, providing a mechanism for resolving disputes and enabling works to proceed.

It also requires that, where the adjoining owner does not ‘agree’ in writing to the works, an independent surveyor, or surveyors, will determine the time and way in which those works are carried out.

Who is an ‘Owner’?

  • Building Owner (BO) – the owner planning to undertake the works, and who will benefit from the works.
  • Adjoining Owner (AO) – the owner and any other occupier of land, building, storeys or rooms adjoining those of the Building Owner (BO).

An ‘Owner’ includes the person or body:

  • Holding the freehold title, or
  • Holding a leasehold title for a period exceeding one year, or
  • Under contract to purchase such a title, or
  • Entitled to receive rents from a property.

There may, therefore, be more than one owning interest (Freehold and/or Leasehold Owners), which could affect the number of notices required.

The ‘Act’ covers

  • Section 1 (Line of Junction) – A new building on or at the boundary (Line of Junction) of two properties.
  • Section 2/3 (Party Structure) – Work, or repairs, to an existing party wall or party structure, including common jobs such as cutting holes to insert beams, cutting in flashings and removing chimney breasts
  • Section 6 (3m/6m – adjacent excavation and construction) – Excavation near to and below the foundation level of neighbouring building or structure.

This may include:

  • Building a new wall on or at the boundary of two properties.
  • Cutting into a party wall.
  • Making a party wall taller, shorter or deeper.
  • Removing a chimney breast from a party wall.
  • Knocking down and rebuilding a party wall.
  • Digging below the foundation level of a neighbouring property.

Serving a Party Wall Notice

Once in receipt of a party wall notice, the ‘owner’ has 14 days to respond. Any notice should be accompanied by relevant plans and section drawings.

Should no response be provided from the notice after this time period, a dispute is deemed to have arisen.

Where there is no response, a further notice letter is sent to ‘chase the owner’, informing them that a dispute has now arisen, giving them 10 days to respond and advise on their chosen party wall surveyor.

Notices should be served at least 1 month prior to works starting, for a Section 1 or Section 6 Notice, and two months for a Section 2/3 Notice.

Notices and Awards shall cease to have effect if the work to which they relate have not begun within 12 months.

How should an ‘owner’ respond to a notice

  • Consent to the works going ahead, as described within the notice – A consenting Adjoining Owner retains all rights under the Act, including the right to appoint a surveyor later in the process, if there is a dispute at that stage.
  • Dissent and appoint a surveyor – The Act allows the Owners to concur in the appointment of a single ‘Agreed’ surveyor or appoint their own separate surveyors.
  • Issue a counter notice to set out certain conditions required for the benefit of the Adjoining Owner – The Counter Notice should set out what additional or modified work the Adjoining Owner would like to be included for their benefit.

Should no response be provided from the notice after this time period, a dispute is deemed to have arisen.

Once a dispute has arisen, a party wall surveyor needs to be appointed to act on behalf of the ‘owner’ and in turn appoint a third surveyor, where required. The surveyors work together to agree the terms under which work may proceed, and draw up an agreement that sets out these terms (the Award).

If a Building Owner carries out work without serving the required Notice, or before an agreement or Award is made, they may face an injunction to stop work, or even be sued for damages.

It is again worth reiterating that the Act is one of enablement, and not to prevent works from taking place. Its’ purpose is to provide a mechanism to end disputes at every stage.

The Award

Put simply, this is a legal agreement, which refers to the Schedule of Condition and agreed drawings of the proposed works, and binds the owners to certain undertakings i.e. the Adjoining Owner to consent to the works, and for the Building Owner to make good any damage to the Adjoining Owner’s building and ensure their Contractor complies with certain requirements.

How long does this process take?

The Party Wall Award process usually takes in the region of four to six weeks. However, in rare cases, where there are serious disagreements on technical and/or legal points, the process could last six months or more.

Who pays?

Generally, the Building Owner, who started the work, pays for all expenses of work and all reasonable costs incurred by all parties as a result. This will include the surveyor’s fees for both Building Owner and Adjoining Owner.

How can JNP Group help?

JNP Group can review the site proposals and assess party wall matters:

  • Advise on how the PWA should be applied, or could actually be avoided.
  • Identify the neighbouring owners and confirm contact details – HM Land Registry
  • Prepare and send Notices to the neighbouring Owners.
  • Undertake the role of Party Wall Surveyor.
  • Carry out Schedule of Condition surveys of the neighbouring properties.
  • Prepare and agree PW Award in dispute situations.