Row of terrace houses. The essential guide to party wall agreements

What you should know about party walls before converting your loft

Before pressing ahead with that loft conversion, make sure the plans comply with the Party Wall Act 1996. Under the Act, you must obtain consent before altering a party wall. Your neighbours have a legal right to protect their properties from damage and permanent alterations.

In many cases, neighbours won’t object to proposals and the work can press ahead almost immediately. But just to make sure you can always reach a solution, there’s a framework in place that allows you to settle any disputes and protect the condition of your properties.

If your neighbours oppose your plans or ignore your notices, you’ll need a RICS Chartered Surveyor to assess your loft conversion proposals and your properties. Fortunately, surveyors can help you save time and money by handling a wealth of complex tasks on your behalf.

This easy-to-understand guide explains party walls, the law and the rules that affect loft conversions. We’ll also tell you how the right surveyor can make a significant difference when it comes to timing and financial decision making.

What is a party wall?

A party wall is any wall or structure that you share with your neighbours. It can apply to ordinary walls between terraces, a floor or ceiling between two homes, and any loft wall you share with a neighbour.

You might need permission to carry out any work that could cause damage to your neighbour’s property, with your neighbour’s wall or structure being the party wall. If you or a neighbour is worried about potential damages and repair costs, you should contact a surveyor for help.

Loft conversions: how the Party Wall Act 1996 affects you

The Party Wall Act 1996 protects both you and your neighbours. It gives you a legal right to carry out reasonable works such as loft conversions and allows neighbours to raise disputes. If any issues do arise, the Party Wall Act 1996 sets out the process for settling matters fairly, with the best interests of all affected parties in mind.

Essentially, the Party Wall Act means you need to get consent from your neighbours before you can make any loft alterations that could damage their homes. To prevent mishaps, resolve problems and ensure you can get started as quickly as reasonably possible, the Act sets out a strict deadline for formal notices and agreements.

Party Structure Notices

Party Structure Notices are served to make sure neighbours have the chance to object to any proposals that could damage their property. You can see if everybody’s on board with your plans by having a chat, but you’ll still need to serve a notice and get written permission.

After receiving the notice, your neighbours have 14 days to respond. They can either give their consent in writing, refuse to agree, or simply do nothing.

What happens if my neighbour doesn’t respond to my notice?

If your neighbour fails to respond to your Party Structure Notice within 14 days, they have objected to the works under the rules set out in the Party Wall Act. You’ll need to hire a surveyor before you can legally get your loft conversion under way.

Ideally, you and your neighbour should agree on a surveyor to act as a neutral and impartial expert. The Agreed Surveyor will assess the plans and your situation to help you both reach an amicable solution. If you can’t agree on a surveyor, you’ll need to hire one each. Both surveyors base their reports and advice on the strict guidelines set out by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. If they can’t reach an agreement, they’ll appoint a third surveyor to make a Party Wall Award, which sets out your legal rights and obligations.

Party wall agreements

You’ll need a party wall agreement for almost any loft conversion in a terraced or semi-detached house. Neighbours may want to adjust the schedule or certain elements of the proposal. Because your notice and agreement must contain details of your proposal, often with drawings and plans, surveyors usually draft all documents on your behalf.

You can legally choose to serve your notice and create agreements without help, but it’s best to hire at least one surveyor to keep everything above board in case any problems arise. If your neighbour wants to appoint their own solicitor, you’ll likely have to cover their fees.

Once you have a party wall agreement, which confirms your neighbour’s consent to your loft conversion, you can start work immediately. Neighbours have 14 days to respond and raise a dispute, though for a loft conversion, you may need to notify them two months before you intend to start.

Loft conversion works that require a party wall agreement

Almost any work that involves a wall or structure shared by two or more properties requires a party wall agreement. For example, you’ll need a written agreement if you want to:

  • Remove a chimney breast
  • Use the wall as a load-bearing wall
  • Rebuild or remove sections or all of the wall
  • Insert a damp course proof
  • Underpin the entire length of the wall
  • Increase the wall’s height or thickness

If you alter a party wall without written consent from your neighbours, you’ll likely face fines, legal penalties and disgruntled familiar faces. Ask a surveyor for advice if you’re unsure about party wall regulations that apply to loft conversions.

Can I convert my loft without an agreement?

You don’t always need a party wall agreement for a loft conversion. If you don’t need to alter the structure of party walls, there’s no need to get permission. So, you can usually feel free to paint and wallpaper walls as you please.

You don’t need a party wall agreement if:

  • Your loft is on top of a detached house or standalone building
  • You use a purpose-built column rather than the party wall to support the beam throughout construction

Using columns and non-party walls to support loft conversions can be a good idea when party wall matters are especially complicated. A RICS Chartered Surveyor can let you know what regulations apply to you.

How RICS Chartered Surveyors can help you

Some people attempt to reduce the cost of the loft conversion by reaching party wall agreements without the help of qualified surveyors. But surveyors possess a wealth of knowledge on all things related to property and can offer invaluable advice, potentially saving you a lot of money in the process.

Surveyors take many mammoth tasks off your hands. They can:

  • Draft all the paperwork
  • Serve notices on your behalf
  • Help you understand your costs
  • Act as a mediator between you and any affected neighbour
  • Prevent disputes from delaying your loft conversion
  • Settle disputes and reach solutions if you neighbour’s refuse to give consent
  • Identify defects that could cause potentially disastrous problems
  • Ensure you never miss a deadline

While the most affordable way to solve disputes is to hire an Agreed Surveyor, you should remember that your neighbour has the right to instruct their own surveyor, and you’ll need to cover the costs.

Learn more about party wall agreements for loft conversions

At Novello Chartered Surveyors, we’re making party wall agreements, valuations and surveys more straightforward, useful, valuable and affordable than ever before. We utilise the latest technology to reduce costs, improve our offering and maximise efficiency. We also operate on a mobile basis to make sure we’re flexible. And those reduced overheads allow us to pass on savings to you.

If you want expert property advice from an award-winning, forward-thinking team of friendly professionals, don’t hesitate to chat with us online, send us a message or give us a call.