Picture above - Neighbour's eye view of a major development
10 tips for party walls - Building Owners
If you plan to do work close to a structure owned by a neighbour or affecting a party wall, here are 10 tips that may help you. If you are the neighbour, these tips do not apply to you.
1 Check whether the Party Wall etc Act 1996 applies to your work. If any of the following are true, the Act probably applies. a You are doing repairs, alterations or connecting something substantial to a party wall. In this case, a party wall includes a party chimney stack or similar. b You are building a new wall on or very close to the boundary line c You are doing excavations for works within 3 metres of any structure on your neighbours land where the excavation is (or might be) deeper than the foundations for your neighbour's structure. d Similar to (c) but over 3 metres deep and within 6 metres of the neighbour's foundations.
If you are not sure, do check because, if you don't follow the correct procedures, it can cost a lot more money as well as causing significant delays to the building works.
Remember that, despite its name, the Act can apply to walls that are not party walls. In some situations, it can also apply to other structures such as garden walls or patios or even roofs and floors - take advice if you are unsure.
2 Get a professional to check or do it yourself. The Planning Permission will probably state that the Party Wall Act "may" apply. Do the checking yourself - do not reply on the Planning Departments or Building Control Departments - it is outside their jurisdiction. If you are not sure, do not guess - that could be very costly - take advice from a professional.
3 Talk to your neighbour well in advance of serving a notice. Yes, it sounds obvious but most of the disputes we get involved in could have been avoided with a simple discussion. Even if you don't get on with your neighbour or if they have objected to your planning applications, it could save you a lot of money and time to bite the bullet and have a chat. At the very least, put something through their letter box and offer a discussion.
4 Give the details in writing. Always leave a plan or details of the works with your neighbour. That way there can be no mistake or lapses of memory which are all too common. The drawings should show exactly how your work will affect (or not affect) your neighbour. Imagine what information you would like to see if they were doing the work. If their minds are put at rest, you are much more likely to have a simple and cost free Party Wall procedure.
5 Serve any Party Wall notice correctly. A surprisingly high proportion of the Notices we see served by individuals are not correctly prepared. That means that they are invalid. If follows that any party wall agreements could also be invalid so any surveyor appointed has to prepare the Notices again and re-serve them. That costs money and causes delays. If you are not sure, get a surveyor to do the notices for you - it could save a lot of money, time and general hassle.
6 Consider getting the notices served by a surveyor. If there is any risk of the neighbour not giving a simple agreement to your notice, consider getting it served by a professional. The neighbour will probably realise that you are doing things properly and will be reassured and more likely to agree to your proposals without the need for formally appointing surveyors to prepare a Party Wall Award. When we serve notices, we do so in a friendly way with lots of reassuring information. We also stress that we are independent professionals. Those reassurances tend to encourage agreement.
7 Allow plenty of time for the Party Wall procedures. Depending on the work you are doing, the notice period is one or two months. If your neighbours dissent (do not agree to you proceeding without surveyors), one or two surveyors need to be appointed, it can take several weeks to get all the documents put in place before you can start the work. Do not underestimate the time all this can take, particularly if the work is complex or there are relationship difficulties between the parties.
8 Do not start work until you have all the paperwork in place. If the neighbours have dissented from the work (or not replied to your notice), one or two surveyors must be appointed. Do not start the work that falls under the scope of the Act until the paperwork has been completed and any lead-in times have expired. If you do start work, your neighbour could have the right of applying to the Court for an injunction to stop you from proceeding. That is likely to be very expensive for you, could delay the works for quite a long period and should be avoided at all costs.
9 Tell your builder about the Act. Even if your neighbour has agreed to the works, you still have liability for any damage so you should pass a copy of any documents to your builder and formally instruct him to take the neighbour and his property into account when he is doing the work. That includes all health and safety precautions. Any difficulties caused by your builder could end up being your responsibility, especially if you don't tell him about the party wall award or procedures. Bear in mind that most small building firms do not know about party wall procedures (although they should do).
10 Notify of any scheme changes after the notices are served. Even if the Adjoining Owner agreed to the work, you must keep people informed if the scheme changes so that it affects the party wall. If you do keep people informed of normal small changes these are likely to be simply approved. However, if you do not tell anyone, you are likely to find that you have an extra disagreement with all the costs and time delays that could cause and, in extreme cases, Court action. You really do not want that.