The Party Wall etc Act 1996

The Party Wall Act Explained

The Party Wall etc Act 1996 provides owners of land and buildings with specific rights and obligations in relation to party walls and other structures that are in close proximity. These obligations apply in three circumstances:

  1. When you intend to carry out works to a party wall.
  2. When you intend to excavate close to an adjoining structure.
  3. When you intend to build a wall on a boundary with another property.

When works covered by the Act are to be undertaken it is a legal requirement to serve a notice on any affected adjoining owners.

Where any matters covered in those notices are then in dispute between the owners then these are typically resolved by the preparation of a Party Wall Award (sometimes called a Party Wall Agreement). These are usually prepared by surveyors.

What works are covered?

In the paragraph above the main types of work that require notice are listed. However this is more specifically broken down within the Act.

1. Works to a party wall

Where you intend on undertaking works to a party wall or structure you will be required to serve notice on your neighbour at least two months before the works start, where the following are proposed:

a. To underpin, thicken, or raise a party structure.

b. To carry out repairs to a party structure.

c. To demolish a partition or party structure for any purpose.

d. To cut into a party wall for any purpose, including inserting a damp proof course.*

e. To remove a chimney breast, or cut away any other projection on your land, such as foundations.

f. To expose sections of a party wall previously enclosed (e.g. a dividing loft wall).

* Cutting into a party wall is usually notifiable under the Act, however very minor work, such as drilling a hole for a picture frame, is unlikely to require notice to be served.

2. Excavation

If you intend on excavating close to a structure owned in part or in full by someone else, you need to serve them with a notice at least one month before the works start.

This applies where you intend to excavate:

  1. Within 3m of an adjoining structure and to a depth deeper than its foundations.
  2. Within 6m and to a depth deeper than if a 45 degree line was drawn downwards from the bottom of their foundations. See sketch image below; in the example shown, notice would be required.

Note: In both cases if you are unsure of the dept then a best guess based on the age and construction of the property should be made, and it is wise to assume your excavations will be deeper. If you cannot confirm the depth, or intend on not serving notice, then a trial pit should be dug to make sure.

3. Building on the boundary line

If you intend on building a new wall at the boundary line with another property then you need to serve your neighbour with a notice at least one month before you build the wall.

Notice is required both where the wall is astride the boundary, or where it sits up to the boundary but entirely on your own land. This is because it may come as a surprise to a neighbour to find a new wall even if it is entirely on neighbouring land.

The main matter in dispute here is typically whether to permit the wall to be built partly on the neighbour’s land.

Note that you have the right to put foundations under your neighbour’s land, but only so far as it is necessary.

Responding to notices

Once a notice has been served on an adjoining owner they can either consent to the works, or dissent to them. If they consent, nothing further is required*. If they dissent, typically a party wall award will need to be prepared to resolve any matters in dispute.

Note: Your neighbour has 14 days to respond to the notice. If they do not respond within this period then they are deemed to have automatically dissented and an award will need to be prepared.

* Even if a neighbour consents, it is still highly advisable to have a photographic schedule of condition of their property carried out before the works start. This will act as a record in the event of any claims of damage arising.

What if my neighbour dissents?

If your neighbour dissents or does not respond to your notice then you are in dispute. To resolve this a party wall award needs to be prepared. This is usually done by party wall surveyors.

If your neighbour dissents they will have to either appoint their own surveyor, or agree to share your surveyor (known as an “agreed surveyor”).

Those surveyors will then prepare the award.

The party wall award will typically contain the following:

  • A schedule of condition of the adjoining property before the works start.
  • The project drawings.
  • Stipulations on any matters specific to the works and which are in dispute.
  • Methods of working.
  • Hours of working.
  • Any compensation or expense requirements.
  • Other matters in connection with the Act and the proposed works.

You cannot start the works until the Award has been agreed and signed by the surveyors, and served on the owners.

Who can I appoint as a surveyor?

Anyone, except an owner himself, can act as a party wall surveyor. You cannot appoint yourself as party wall surveyor.

Ideally they should also not be connected to the works in any way that would make them incapable of being impartial.

Of course it is highly beneficial to appoint someone who has experience in the kind of work involved as well as a good knowledge of the Act.

Party wall surveyors are typically building surveyors, architects, or engineers who have a specialist knowledge of the Act.

Search our directory of party wall surveyors.

Who pays surveyors fees?

Under most circumstances, party wall surveyors fees are paid by the person carrying out the works.

There are exceptions to this, for example where work is being carried out due to a need for repair, for which both parties may be required to contribute to fees, or where the adjoining owner requires additional works to be carried out to benefit them. Your surveyor should advise you where fees are to be split between owners.

What happens if damage occurs?

If damage occurs during the build and you cannot, or do not want to, agree a remedy directly between the parties, then the party wall surveyors will typically review any damage and make a decision on who is responsible and what works are required.

Typically any costs are decided either by obtaining quotations for the works, or, where there is disagreement, by the surveyors in a further party wall award.

It is sometimes agreed for any making good to be done by the contractor engaged on the project, however, often a neighbour will not want the contractor that has damaged their property carrying out the works. In this case it is common to make a payment to them for the cost of the making good.

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