A party wall is a structure that is shared between neighbours, such as a wall between houses, the floors between flats or maisonettes and even garden boundary walls. If you’re planning on carrying out structural work such as renovations or an extension and it’ll affect a wall you share with your neighbours, you will be impacted by the Party Wall Act and will require either a Party Wall Agreement or a Party Wall Award if a neighbour disputes the work.
A Party Wall Award is a written document intended to ensure that all work is carried out legally, fairly and safely. The aim is to provide a framework for avoiding disputes, yet party wall issues still arise, so finding ways to settle them amicably is essential for projects to proceed on time and on budget while helping you maintain good neighbourly relations.
What is a party wall?
Firstly, let’s be clear about what constitutes a party wall. According to the Party Wall Act, there are three main types:
- a wall that stands on the lands of two or more owners and forms part of a building - this wall can be part of one building only or separate buildings belonging to different owners
- a wall that stands on the lands of two owners but does not form part of a building, such as a garden wall but not including timber fences
- a wall that is on one owner’s land but is used by two or more owners to separate their buildings
- The Act also uses the expression ‘party structure’. This could be a wall or floor partition or other structure separating buildings or parts of buildings in different ownership, such as in flats.
How do I comply with the Party Wall Act?
If any building work you’re planning affects a party structure, you must give notice at least two months before work begins. In the case of excavations, it’s at least one month’s notice. Work cannot begin until an agreement has been entered into with your affected neighbours.
Under the terms of the Party Wall Act, you must tell a neighbour if you are planning to build on or at the boundary of your two properties, work on an existing party wall or party structure or dig below and near to the foundation level of their property. This could include building a new wall, cutting into, knocking down or rebuilding a party wall or removing chimneys from a party wall.
There is no official form for giving notice under the Party Wall Act, but there is key information, such as your name and address, full details of the work you intend to carry out, start dates and a statement that it is a Party Wall Notice under the provisions of the Act, that must be included.
While we’d always recommend speaking to your neighbours personally before serving them notice, we’d then suggest employing a party wall surveyor to handle the details. This way, you can be sure that all relevant parties have the correct information and the necessary level of detail to make an informed decision. It will also mean they are given the right amount of notice about the planned works. By making this process as smooth and clear as possible for your neighbours from the start, they are less likely to object, saving you time and money in the long run.
Once you’ve given notice, your neighbours have 14 days to respond. Ideally, they’ll consent – which must be done in writing – but if they don’t respond by this point, or they refuse to consent, you are deemed to be in dispute.
What happens if I’m in Dispute with my Neighbour?
If you fail to reach an agreement, you’ll need to appoint a surveyor to arrange a Party Wall Award. Again, speaking to and reassuring your neighbour can help here because if they agree to use the same surveyor as you – an ‘agreed surveyor’ – you will only incur a single set of fees. Be aware, though, that your neighbour has the right to appoint their own surveyor at your expense, although you can appoint a surveyor on their behalf if they refuse or fail to do so themselves.
If each side’s surveyor still cannot agree on a Party Wall Award, you will have to pay for a third surveyor to adjudicate.
What is a Party Wall Award?
Once an agreement has been reached, your surveyors will then prepare a fair and impartial Party Wall Award, which will deal with the right to execute the party wall works. A Party Wall Award is a legal document that sets out what work should happen, how and when it will be carried out, who will pay for it and how much will be paid. Once this is in place, and assuming you have complied with the Party Wall Act at all stages of the process, your neighbour cannot prevent the work from going ahead or deny you access to their property to undertake the work.
Top Tips for Avoiding and Settling Disputes
While getting the go-ahead to proceed with the project will be a huge relief, it’s important to remember that you have to live next to your neighbour both during and after the work is completed, so be sure to take steps to avoid any disputes or settle them quickly if they arise.
Ways to do this include:
- Speak to your neighbours. Before you send out your notice, visit those neighbours affected by your work and explain it to them in person. Make sure they know you are available should they have any initial concerns too. If you’re open, friendly and accommodating at this stage, you’re more likely to get a positive response when the notice arrives.
- Give as much detail as possible. Show your neighbours the plans, be clear on the timescales and perhaps even give them the contact details of your party wall surveyor and/or your architect so they can speak to a professional if they have any questions. If your neighbour comes to trust your surveyor, this could also help you if you need to arrange a Party Wall Award as they may not feel the need to appoint their own.
- Choose the right surveyor. The surveyor has a crucial role to play in helping party wall issues run smoothly, so look for a RICS-qualified professional with experience of party wall matters. Your surveyor will prepare service of notices, schedules of conditions and Party Wall Awards, providing expert advice along the way, so it’s important to choose someone you trust to help you avoid delays and additional costs.
At Novello Chartered Surveyors, our experienced, impartial party wall surveyors are here to guide you through every step of the party wall process. Whether working on behalf of the building owner, the adjoining owner or as an agreed surveyor for both, we pride ourselves on our transparency, honesty, fairness and punctuality, as well as our party wall expertise.
Contact us today to find out more.