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The Party Wall Act: What You Need to Know

If you are planning any property development that involves work on a shared or adjoining wall, it is crucial to understand the Party Wall Act 1996. This piece of legislation provides a framework for property owners to carry out building works that would otherwise not be permitted under Common Law. Lack of knowledge about this Act has led to disputes and unhappiness in many cases. 

Understanding the Purpose of the Party Wall Act

The Party Wall Act was introduced to offer a mechanism that allows people to carry out building works that might not be permitted under Common Law. It establishes a legal framework for property owners to undertake construction while safeguarding the rights and interests of neighbouring properties. 

Initiating the Process: Serving a Notice 

The process begins with the building owner, the individual or entity intending to perform the construction work, serving a notice to their neighbour known as the adjoining owner. The notice outlines the proposed building works and seeks their consent or response. 

Consent or Dissent: Resolving Disputes

Upon receiving the notice, the adjoining owner has two options; they can either consent to the proposed works or dissent to the notice. If the adjoining owner dissents or ignores the notice for 14 days, a dispute is considered to have arisen. In such cases, both parties are required to appoint surveyors to produce a Party Wall Award that addresses the disputed matters. 

Party Wall Award: Resolving Disputes Amicably 

The Party Wall Award is a crucial document that sets out various details, including the method of construction, the timeline for the build, and provisions for rectifying any damage caused to the neighbouring property. It ensures that disputes are resolved amicably and that both parties’ interests are protected. 

Common Works Requiring Party Wall Notices

Many property development projects necessitate serving Party Wall notices to the adjoining owner. Some of these common works include:

  1. Building a wall astride the boundary between your land and your neighbour’s land.
  2. Building a wall on your land up to the boundary line. 
  3. Underpinning, thickening, or raising a wall. 
  4. Demolishing and rebuilding a party wall in poor condition. 
  5. Cutting into party walls for various purposes, including injecting a damp-proof course. 
  6. Demolishing party structures and rebuilding them to take greater loads than before. 
  7. Excavating below the level of the neighbouring foundations within a distance of 3 metres. 

Expanded Scope: Excavation and More

Contrary to a common misconception, the Act doesn’t solely apply to adjoining properties. If you plan to excavate below the level of your neighbour’s foundations within 3 metres, you must also serve Party Wall notices. This means even seemingly simple developments like a new conservatory or extension may trigger the need for these notices. There are also factors to take into account if the neighbouring property is damaged during the process.

Seek Professional Guidance

If you’re unsure whether you need to serve a Party Wall notice or which notice to serve, it’s essential to consult a party wall surveyor. They can guide you through the process and offer valuable suggestions to potentially avoid triggering the Act altogether through minor adjustments to your plans. 

Legal Consequences of Non-Compliance

Failing to serve the required notices or proceeding with work without proper authorization can lead to legal repercussions. Your neighbour may seek an injunction from the County Court to stop the work, and as a developer, you could face imprisonment and contempt of court if you continue working after being served with an injunction. 

Understanding and complying with the Party Wall Act is crucial for a smooth and legal property development process. By serving the necessary notices and addressing potential disputes through a Party Wall Award, you can avoid conflicts with your neighbours and proceed confidently with your building works. Respecting the Party Wall Act leads to more successful and harmonious property development projects.