The Party Wall Act Explained

The Party Wall Act 1996 is a piece of Government legislation that’s intended to protect homeowners whose property is adjoined to another. Such homes include semi-detached and terraced houses and flats and apartments. As well as this, it can help quickly and smoothly resolve any disputes that might come about between neighbours in relation to the following:

  • Party walls
  • Party structures (such as floors and ceilings)
  • Boundary walls and fences
  • Excavation works on or near neighbouring buildings or structures

If you intend to carry out any building work on or near a party wall or adjoining structure, then you’ll need to draw up a Party Wall Agreement and present your neighbour(s) with a Party Wall Notice in order to comply with the Party Wall Act 1996.

Once notice has been served, and only upon receipt and permission of your neighbour, can you draw up a Party Wall Agreement. If you don’t get your neighbour(s)’ consent, then you can dispute their decision. 

Although the Act itself cannot solve boundary disputes, it outlines that a party wall surveyor should be appointed on both sides in order to produce a Party Wall Award together. A third party wall surveyor may become involved if the initial two party wall surveyors cannot agree on a decision and resolution. Here, they will consider the needs and best interests of both homeowners and come to a fair and reasonable agreement this way.

Types or work covered by the Party Wall Act

Any work being carried out directly on or to an existing party wall will be covered by the Party Wall Act 1996. You will need a Party Wall Agreement and a Party Wall Notice for the following projects:

  • Work on garden walls and/or fences
  • Any repairs to party walls
  • Raising works
  • Demolishing a party wall
  • Rebuilding a party wall
  • Excavation works, including underpinning, to or near to the party wall (3-6m)
  • Loft conversion
  • Cellar or basement conversions
  • Garage conversions
  • Inserting a damp proof course
  • Making party walls thicker or taller
  • Building a second-storey extension above a party wall
  • Building a new wall off or up to a party wall

There are, however, some works that are considered to be too minor to consult the adjoining neighbour, including the following:

  • Replastering
  • Removing old plaster
  • Drilling or fixing screws for shelving
  • Hanging pictures or other hanging homeware pieces
  • Cutting in or channeling out a wall for new electrical wiring or to replace recessed electrical wiring

What should the property owner do under the Party Wall Act?

It’s advised that the homeowner who wishes to carry out work on the party wall discusses the plan, in person, with the affected neighbour(s). This will help to prevent misunderstandings and disputes further down the line if you let them know before presenting them with a Party Wall Notice and a Party Wall Agreement.

Once you have spoken with those affected, you can draw up a Party Wall Notice and a Party Wall Agreement and present them with those two documents, together with a copy of the Party Wall Act 1996. The Act itself will outline how you can serve notice, together with a few example letters.

You will need to include specific details in the aforementioned documents, including:

  • Your personal contact information
  • Highly-detailed and comprehensive report of the prospective work being done
  • The date the work will begin
  • Any and all access requirements regarding the neighbour(s)’ property, if applicable

If the adjoining property is leasehold or rented, then you’ll need to send the Party Wall Agreement and the Party Wall Notice to both the building owner (landlord and/or developer) and the tenants who reside in the affected property. 

Notice will need to be served between one year and two months before any work is carried out and it’s valid for one year from the date your neighbours were served it. Therefore, if work fails to be carried out within those twelve months, you will need a new Party Wall Notice and a new Party Wall Agreement.

If you carry out work without serving the neighbour(s) the aforementioned documents then they’ll have the power to halt the project by way of a civil court injunction or another form of legal redress. In addition to this, you’ll also be liable for any costs associated with damages caused to their property, even if it wasn’t your fault. Avoid any unnecessary problems by serving the correct notice and providing any affected neighbour(s) with the right documentation before commencing with your project.

What can the adjoining property owner do on receipt of a Party Wall Notice?

The adjoining homeowner(s) have the following options, only upon receipt of a Party Wall Notice:

  • Provide your consent, in writing, within 14 days
  • Serve a counter-notice requesting modified works, additional works or additional information within one month (although you have14 days to let the other party know that you’ll be serving them a counter notice)
  • Refuse to give consent to the proposed works within 14 days of receipt of a Party Wall Notice
  • Do nothing (if you do not respond at all within 14 days, a dispute automatically ensues)

When can I start work in order to comply with the Party Wall Act?

Work can only begin once you have been given consent from the adjoining homeowner(s) or if an agreement has been reached by way of a Party Wall Award that’s been produced by two or more party wall surveyors. 

However, if a Party Wall Notice has been rejected or deliberately not responded to by the adjoining neighbour(s) then a dispute resolution procedure is automatically invoked and this carries with it its own constraints when it comes to when building work can commence. Once this happens, it’s down to each individual case as to when work can begin on or near to a party wall.