When it comes to owning property, there are various legal aspects and responsibilities that homeowners need to be aware of, one of which is the Party Wall Act. This legislation applies to situations where two properties share a common wall, also known as a party wall. The Act is designed to govern any construction or alteration work that could potentially affect the party wall or the adjoining property. In this blog, we will explore the Party Wall Act in relation to damage caused to a neighbour’s property during such works.
Understanding the Party Wall Act
A party wall can take different forms, including a structural wall in a semi-detached property or a masonry garden wall between two different owners’ back gardens. The exact boundary between the properties is often not clearly defined and is not the responsibility of Party Wall Surveyors to determine. Party Wall Surveyors are independent professionals who are appointed by either party involved in the building works to assess the project and produce a party wall agreement.
Notifying Adjoining Owners
If you plan to carry out significant construction work or excavate near a party wall, the Party Wall Act requires you to inform the adjoining owner(s) in writing at least two months before the work commences. While it is possible to reach an agreement with your neighbour without involving Party Wall Surveyors, they have the right to appoint their own surveyor if they wish.
The Role of a Schedule of Condition
A critical aspect of the Party Wall Act is the creation of a Schedule of Condition by the appointed party wall surveyors. This document provides a detailed description of the current condition of the areas adjacent to the building works before any construction begins. It includes photographs and thorough descriptions of the walls, floors, and ceilings. This schedule acts as legal protection for the adjoining property owner in case any damage occurs during the works and helps prevent false damage claims.
Who is Responsible for Party Wall Damage?
If damage occurs to an adjoining owner’s property during the building works covered by the Party Wall Act, the person undertaking the construction is responsible for compensating the affected party or repairing the damage. However, to substantiate claims of damage, the adjoining owner must allow reasonable access to their property for the preparation of the Schedule of Condition.
Dealing with Party Wall Damage
The Party Wall Agreement includes a dispute resolution process to address any damage caused during the works. The party wall surveyors will conduct a post-works inspection based on the original agreement and the Schedule of Condition. In some cases, the adjoining owner may request a pre-completion inspection if they suspect ongoing or potential damage that could harm residents. The resolution process set out in the Party Wall Act eliminates the need for separate legal action.
Compensation for Party Wall Damage
Party wall damage can range from minor issues like plaster cracks to more severe damage like broken windows. The adjoining owner has the option to request the building owner to repair the damage or seek compensation to rectify the situation. The party wall surveyors estimate the extent of the damage and recommend compensation based on industry standards, current material and labour costs, and the condition of the adjoining property before the works began.
Party Wall Insurance
While liability for damage lies with the building owner carrying out the work, they may also recover costs from their builder if the damage was caused due to negligence. It is advisable for the building owner to ensure that their chosen builder has adequate insurance to cover any potential damages. Additionally, parties involved in the Party Wall Agreement may consider specialist party wall insurance policies for added protection.
When undertaking construction work that involves a party wall, it is essential to comply with the Party Wall Act to avoid disputes and ensure a smooth process. Having a comprehensive Schedule of Condition prepared by party wall surveyors beforehand provides clarity on the property’s condition and helps protect both parties from unwarranted damage claims. Seeking professional advice and guidance throughout the process can simplify party wall matters and ensure a successful outcome for all parties involved.