A party wall refers to a boundary that divides two or more adjoining buildings, and of which each has a different owner. Some examples include the shared wall that separates two semi-detached or terraced homes, or a wall separating two or more residential gardens. Similarly, party structures refer to floors or other structures that separate buildings or parts of a building from different owners, such as flats.
When carrying out any building work to – or even near – a party wall, property owners are legally required to inform their neighbours. In England and Wales, the 1996 Party Wall Act is often used to help resolve disputes between two property owners. To avoid disputes arising in the first place, a party wall agreement should be made.
Do I need a party wall agreement?
You’ll need to obtain a party wall agreement if your proposed works involve any of the following within 3-6m of the party wall:
- Any work to party walls between terraced or semi-detached houses.
- Any work to garden boundary walls.
- Any work to party structures, such as the floors between flats.
- Work to make party walls thicker or higher.
- Building a second-storey extension above a party wall.
- Building works that involve loft conversions.
- Building a new wall directly off of a party wall.
- The insertion of damp proof courses.
- Excavation works that are directly below or near the party wall.
If you are planning any of the above building work, you must firstly inform your neighbours, provide them with a Party Wall Notice and draft a Party Wall Agreement in writing. To mitigate the risk of any dispute, it’s very important that the Party Wall Agreement is comprehensive and provides in detail the level of work required, and likely disruption it will cause.
We strongly recommend that property owners consult with an architect or engineer during this process, as they’ll be able to advise on the likely disruption caused by the works, as well as the timescales to expect. The agreement should also include detail on how the works will progress, a schedule of condition of the adjoining property, drawings and details of the proposed works (an architect or engineer would certainly come in handy here!), daily working hours, details of the contractor’s insurance, and a surveyors’ details.
If permission is granted…
The neighbour will give assent in writing and a surveyor could be enlisted to assess the property and prepare a Schedule of Condition. This involves a detailed recording of the property’s condition, which is then referred back to at a later date to determine the previous condition of the property. The Schedule of Condition plays an important role in mitigating the risk of future dispute between the property owners. This should be carried out shortly before the works begin.
If permission is not granted…
If the neighbour does not give assent in writing within 14 days of the Party Wall Notice, a Party Wall Award is required. This is a legal document – drawn up by an impartial surveyor – which outlines what work should happen, how and when it will be carried out, how much will be paid, and who will be responsible for each payment (including the surveyor’s fees). The Award crucially sets out the rights and responsibilities of both the property owner instigating the building works, and the neighbour, and can go far in settling lengthy disputes.
What can be done to avoid dispute?
It sounds simple, but a friendly, neighbourly chat goes a long way when it comes to party wall agreements. Receiving a formal Party Wall Notice out of the blue can be a little intimidating, so it’s important to have an initial chat about your plans before serving any notices. This gives property owners a chance to understand their neighbours’ concerns and address them before getting started on any work.
Party walls raise a number of challenges for a wide range of people. Annoyingly, they also arise even after the necessary agreements, surveys and inspections. At Lyons O’Neill, we often look to our experience with refurbishments and our understanding of the building process when working as Party Wall Engineers. Understanding the range of requirements each project needs to meet, we take a pragmatic approach and robust approach to the process, and have been able to negotiate and resolve a number of complex site boundary issues for a range of clients.
For example, our work at York House provided some unusual access and security challenges, as the rear of the building shared a party wall with the grounds of Windsor Castle and Her Majesty the Queen. Directly opposite the building was also where the New Guard and marching band would depart for the changing of the Guard. Working around these challenges, we gained a good understanding of the existing structure (and the busy live site), and were able to influence the solution at the early stages, ensuring that our works were practical and could fit the tight project programme.
As part of this effort, the building’s new level 2 floor and rooftop extension were designed to be lightweight enough to minimise additional loading on the existing foundations, whilst still providing an open floor space and adhering to overall building height restrictions and the requirements laid out in the party wall agreement.
Get in touch
If you are planning works to or near to a party wall, and would like some advice on obtaining a successful Party Wall Agreement or survey, please do not hesitate to get in touch by filling in your details here.