Party Wall Surveying, Boundary Disputes and Neighbourly Matters

Party Wall Advice – The Party Wall etc. Act 1996

Avoid problems and unnecessary costs by getting the right party wall advice at the start of your building project. If you're considering any building work, such as a home extension, that does not involve working directly on a party wall but involves excavating for foundations within 3.0M of any part of your neighbour’s property, including outbuildings, garages, boundary walls, the act is likely to apply to you and you'll need party wall advice.

Or perhaps you've been advised that your neighbour is planning to do work on a wall they share with you. While they are initiating the work, and may have planning and building regulations approvals, they still have a duty to serve party wall notices to you, if their works fall under the Act.  It is in your interest to ensure that that your property is protected and is not harmed in any way by the way their building works are carried out. This process if not dealt with professionally can cause problems for many neighbours. Being experienced and independent chartered surveyors, we have years of experience in party wall surveying and in working with clients on issues relating to party walls. We examine scrutinise the plans and methods of the proposed works and also inspect and record a schedule of condition of the adjoining owners’ property before and after the works are carried out, making it easier to deal with any damage that may arise. We recommend that you engage a surveyor once you are aware of work, or proposed work, that involves a party wall.

Your neighbour can't stop you renovating or making changes to your property, where these are legal and, where needed, have the appropriate planning permission. However, they can influence when and how the work is carried out. To prevent unnecessary costs and frustration, we recommend you involve a surveyor as soon as possible.

The rules about work on party walls are covered by the Party Wall Act 1996, which sets out the rights and responsibilities of property owners who do work on or around a party wall between properties. The Party Wall Act is intended to ensure properties are protected from damage when work is carried out. The alternative to dealing with problems is civil action against neighbours under common law which is fraught with difficulties and can be very costly.

What is a Party Wall?

A party wall is one that stands on or close to the boundary between properties of two different owners. The majority of homes in London, the South East and beyond have party walls, often because the structure is either semi-detached or a terrace. However, a detached house can also have a party wall, where the wall of the house stands on the boundary, even though the neighbouring house is not attached to it.

A garden wall can also be a party fence wall, where it is on a property boundary, even if the wall is not connected to a building or other structure. In some situations the wall is built entirely on one side of the boundary. It is still considered a party wall if part of neighbouring property has been built up against it. For example, the wall of your house may be entirely on your property, although very close to the boundary. Your neighbour has erected a garage on their property, which uses your wall as one side of the garage. This makes it a party wall.

When does the Party Wall Act apply?

If you or your neighbour are doing any building work on or close to a party wall, it's a sensible precaution to consider whether the work falls under the scope of the Party Wall act. As Chartered Surveyors, we have the expertise and experience to advise you on this.

Examples of where the Party Wall Act will apply include:

Building a new party wall, or a party fence wall, including knocking down and rebuilding an existing party wall or a party fence wall. Removing a chimney from the party wall. Cutting into a party wall to insert beams for a loft conversion, for example. Making the wall taller, shorter or deeper. Digging within 3.0 M or even 6.0M of a neighbours foundations and going below the bottom of their foundation level.

We can help you by reviewing the plans for any proposed work and giving you guidance on whether the Party Wall Act applies in your situation.

What work is not covered by the Party Wall Act?

You can carry out minor works on a shared wall without having to notify your neighbour, where the work will not have any impact on the structural strength or will not cause any damage on the neighbour's side. Typically, this work includes:

  • Drilling into the wall to fix plugs and screws for shelving and wall units.
  • Cutting into the wall to replace or add recessed electrical sockets and wiring.
  • Removing or replacing old plastering. If you're in any doubt, it makes sense to take advice from a professional surveyor.

How do I inform a neighbour of work on a party wall?

In our experience, the sooner you communicate your intentions to your neighbours, the smoother the process will be. An informal conversation will make them aware and can highlight issues you had not considered. Talking about it early, and resolving potential points of difficulty, makes it more likely they will give consent once you formally announce your intentions. This formal notice must be in writing and must include certain mandatory information, including a full description of the proposed works, along with an intended start date. You are not obliged to supply plans unless the work includes excavation, but plans can make it easier to visualise what is being proposed. Where a notice is required, you have a legal duty to serve it. You must give notice at least two months before starting any works directly on a party wall, party fence wall, and one month for other notifiable works, and you must receive consent in writing. Where your notice does not result in written consent, it's assumed that the work is in dispute and the matter must then be resolved in accordance with section 10 of the act, by surveyors, before work can begin.

What is a Party Wall Award?

The Party Wall Award is a legally binding document drawn up by the surveyors appointed by the owners of the properties, which sets out the duties and responsibilities of the respective owners. It essentially regulates the notifiable works and determines the time and manner in which they are carried out. It covers areas such as how damage is dealt with, working hours and contractor's insurance on the project, as well as access rights on the adjoining owners land. An award is typically the outcome where neighbours disagree. Both sides appoint a surveyor, with a third made available to arbitrate should the others not be able to agree. The surveyors appointed as part of the dispute resolution process have a professional and legal obligation to reach a fair and impartial award. The Party Wall Award becomes final and binding unless it is successfully challenged in a county court, within a set time limit.

Who pays for the Party Wall Surveyor?

It's usual for the property owner who initiates the works to pay all associated professional fees that an adjoining owner may have to incur, including their surveyors fees. The work is, after all, being carried out for their benefit. However, where there is a defect or repair work is needed, and the responsibility for this can be shown to sit with both property owners, the costs could be split.

What happens if there is a dispute?

Where there is dispute or disagreement between neighbours, the Party Wall Act provides possible routes to resolution. Where a neighbour refuses to engage a surveyor, you can appoint one to act for them once certain procedures have been followed.

How we can help

We have 20 years' experience in general building surveying and construction as well as experience of having prepared hundreds of party wall awards and having worked with both the building and adjoining owners for all types of works including basement and loft extensions, single storey rear extensions and even simple repairs to the party wall. We can, therefore, provide you with expert and professional advice on all the necessary procedures, at very reasonable prices. If you're planning to start a project that involves any notifiable works on or close to a  party wall, or you've received notice that your neighbour is embarking on building works that could affect your property, then please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss your situation and get a free fee estimate, bearing in mind that this work is time charged and fixed upfront fee quotes are not possible.