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The Party Wall Etc Act 1996 - Guidance Notes

This document is a basic guide to the considerations and procedure of the Party Wall Etc Act 1996 (PWA) that may be involved in your building project, although each situation must be considered on its own merits, so this document does not provide all of the answers. We can advise you as to whether the Act applies in your particular circumstances.

 

How It Might Affect You

 

If you wish to carry out structural alterations to your house, one of the first questions may have to be “how will it affect the neighbours?” If the work requires planning permission, then they will have the opportunity to object to your proposals, but can they stop you doing the work? At one time, even if you got planning consent your neighbours might be able to stop you by refusing you access over their land or refusing to let you do work like tying in to their building. PWA provides a way of dealing with that sort of problem.


What the Act does


The PWA provides the framework for preventing and resolving disputes in relation to party walls, boundary walls and excavations near neighbouring buildings. If you intend to carry out building work which involves work on an existing wall shared with another property; or building on the boundary with a neighbouring property; or excavating near a neighbouring building the work may be covered by the Act. If it is then you must notify all adjoining owners (which include freeholders and leaseholders, but not tenants) whose property will be affected.

What has to be done?


If you are the person who is going to be doing the work (“the building owner”) then, in the circumstances specified by the Act (for which, see below), you must notify your neighbours of what you are going to do. Generally speaking, provided that you have the necessary planning and building regulation consents, your neighbours cannot stop you doing the work, and indeed the Act gives you certain rights to interfere with their property in order to get the work done, but they may ask you to do it in a different way, either in order to protect their property or to make work which they had planned easier to carry out. Whilst you are doing the work, you owe a duty of care to the neighbouring owner, and you must act in a way which causes them the minimum of inconvenience, essentially it is the buildings that matter, rather than the personal preferences of the building owners.

 

What is a Party Wall?


The PWA states that a wall is a party wall if either:


a) It stands astride the boundary of land belonging to two (or more) different owners; or
b) It belongs totally to one owner, but is used by two (or more) owners to separate their buildings.
c) Where one person has built the wall in the first place, and another has butted their building up against it without constructing their own wall, only the part of the wall that does the separating is “party” sections on either side or above are not “party”.


The Act also refers to a “party fence wall” which is a wall which is not part of a building but one which stands astride the boundary line between lands of different owners and is used to separate those lands: this might include a garden wall, but it would not include a wooden fence.


A “party structure” can include a floor partition or other structure separating buildings or parts of buildings approached by separate staircases or entrances, for example flats.

What the Act allows


Section 2 of the Act grants rights to undertake certain types of work to certain types of boundary structures: these structures are usually party walls, party fences walls or party structures but in some cases there are rights in respect of structures which abut a boundary line but which are situated entirely on the adjoining land.


The rights granted include underpinning thickening raising repairing demolishing and rebuilding cutting into cutting away or
cutting off projections reducing the height or exposing.


The means, for example, that you will be able to cut into a wall to take the bearing of a beam, or to insert a damp proof course all the way through the wall. You could raise the whole of the party wall and, if necessary, cut off any projections which would otherwise prevent you from doing so. You may demolish and rebuild the party wall, or underpin it. You may carry out work to protect two adjoining walls, such as by putting a flashing from the higher over the lower.


If you intend to carry out any of these works then you have to inform the neighbouring owners: you cannot even cut into your half of the wall without telling them first, and if you start work without telling them then they can get the courts to stop you, although that does not prevent you from doing such things as drilling into your side of the wall to put up some shelving, or in connection with rewiring or carrying out re-plastering. What is important is whether the work which you intend to do could affect the structural strength or support function of the party wall.


The PWA also covers the situation where you are doing something which involves excavating near a neighbouring building. If your excavation is going to be within three metres of the neighbouring owner’s building, and it will go deeper than their foundations, then you will have to give them notice. You may also have to give them notice if the work you propose involves deeper excavation up to six metres away from their building.


A third situation which you will have to notify your neighbours is if you are going to build something immediately adjacent to or across the boundary line. You do not actually have the right to go across the boundary line for this, your neighbour must give you permission, and if he does not then you cannot do it, although you may be able to build foundations for the wall which project into the neighbour’s land.


How much Notice must I give?


If you are going to work on the party wall then you have to give your neighbour at least two months’ notice, but if you are
going to build close to the boundary, or if you are going to carry out excavations near your neighbour’s building, then you
only need to give one month’s notice. Once you have served the notice you have twelve months within which to do the work.
If you wish, please contact us for our standard letter(s) which can be used to serve notice to your neighbour(s).


What happens once Notice has been served?


It may be that, for simple works, your neighbour will simply agree to what you propose but, even if they do, it is important to
give proper definition to what they are agreeing to: you will still owe them a duty of care, which may mean that you have to
protect their property in some way, and if the works that you do cause damage then you will have to put the damage right.


For more complicated works, there will probably need to be some negotiation about how the works are to be done, working
hours and any special protection that may need to be given to the neighbour’s building, or to minimise inconvenience. The
adjoining owner might want a change which allows for work that he had planned, or to overcome a situation that you had not
foreseen. In those circumstances it is usual for each party to be represented by their own surveyor.


The surveyors will agree a formal document called an Award, but this will also make provision for the appointment of a third
surveyor who will resolve any arguments between the building owners’ surveyors. The Award will also usually include a
record of the condition of the adjoining owner’s building: this may be important at a later stage, if it is alleged that any
damage has been done, since it will help to identify the nature and extent of that damage. If damage is caused by the works,
then it will be your responsibility to put it right. While the work is being done, your surveyor and builders will have certain
rights of access onto the adjoining owner’s property; the adjoining owners surveyor will normally have a right of access onto
your property (under the Award) so that he can check that what is being done is what was agreed.

Can the neighbours stop me by doing nothing?


No. The PWA provides that they must respond to your notice within two weeks. If they do not, or if they object to what you propose, a dispute is deemed to have arisen and the PWA lays down a procedure for dealing with that. The procedure requires that each party should have their own surveyor, but if the adjoining owner fails to appoint one then there is provision for you to appoint one on his behalf.


What does it all cost?


You can serve notice to your neighbours by filling out one of our standard letters, although if a dispute is deemed, a cost will
incur as the building owner will have to pay fees for their own surveyor. It is also usual for the building owner (you) to pay
the adjoining owner’s surveyors fees as well. If you wish, please contact us for our standard letter(s) which can be
used to serve notice to your neighbour(s).