Party Wall Act 1996

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The Party Wall Act 1996 came into force in 1997, so it is now law and gives you rights and responsibilities whichever the side of the 'wall' you are on i.e. whether you are planning/doing work on a relevant structure or if your neighbour is. Party wall srveyors poole, bournemouth, ringwood, christchurch and southampton.

The Party Wall Act does not affect any requirement for Planning Permission or Building Regulation Approval for any work undertaken. Likewise, having Planning Permission and/or Building Regulation Approval does not negate the requirements under the Party Wall Act.

The Party Wall Act comes into effect if someone is planning to do work on a relevant structure, for the purposes of the Act 'party wall' does not just mean the wall between two semi-detached properties, it covers:

  • A wall forming part of only one building but which is on the boundary line between two (or more) properties.
  • A wall which is common to two (or more) properties, this includes where someone built a wall and a neighbour subsequent built something butting up to it.
  • A garden wall, where the wall is astride the boundary line (or butts up against it) and is used to separate the properties but is not part of any building.
  • Floors and ceilings of flats etc.
  • Excavation near to a neighbouring property.

As with all work affecting neighbours, it is always better to reach a friendly agreement rather than resort to any law. Even where the work requires a notice to be served, it is better to informally discuss the intended work, consider the neighbours comments, and amend your plans (if appropriate) before serving the notice.

What work can be done without notice/permission.

Under the Party Wall Act some work is not covered. Such work include:

  • Putting up shelves and wall units.
  • Replastering.
  • Electrical rewiring.

What work needs a notice and permission.

The general principle of the Party Wall Act is that all work which might have an effect upon the structural strength or support function of the party wall or might cause damage to the neighbouring side of the wall must be notified. If in doubt, advice should be sought from a local Building Control Office or professional surveyor/architect.

Work covered by the Party Wall Act include:

  • To demolish and/or rebuild a party wall.
  • To increase the height or thickness of a party wall.
  • Insertion of a damp proof coarse (either chemical injection or a physical dpc).
  • Cutting into the party wall to take load bearing beams.
  • Underpinning a party wall.
  • Excavations within 3 metres of a neighbouring building where the excavation will go below the bottom of the foundations of the neighbouring building.
  • Excavations within 6 metres of a neighbouring building where the excavation will go below a line drawn 45° downwards from the bottom of the foundations of the neighbouring building.

What is required in a notice.

If the planned work to an existing structure falls under the Party Wall Act, a notice must be issued to all affected neighbouring parties. The owners of the property undertaking the work.

  • The address of the property.
  • The names of all the owners of the adjoining property.
  • A description of the proposed work, usually a single line giving a brief description.
  • The proposed start date for the work.
  • A clear statement that the notice is being served under The Party Wall etc Act 1996.
  • The date the notice is being served.
  • If the notice is for excavation work, then a drawing showing the position and depth of the excavation must be included.

The process of serving a notice under the Party Wall Act is as follows:

  • The person intending to carryout the work must serve a written notice on the owners of the adjoining property at least two months before the intended start of the work to every neighbouring party giving details of the work to be carried out.
  • Each neighbouring party should respond in writing giving consent or registering dissent - if a neighbouring party does nothing within 14 days of receiving the notice, the effect is to put the notice into dispute.
  • No work may commence until all neighbouring parties have agreed in writing to the notice (or a revised notice).

If any of the information is missing from a served noticed, it will be invalid in which case, any subsequent award will also be invalid.

New boundary walls

If the planned work is a new boundary wall up to or astride the boundary line, the process is similar to the above but the notice needs to be served at least one month before the planned start date of the work. Neighbouring parties must give written agreement within 14 days for walls astride the boundary (or a dispute is deemed to have occurred), however no formal agreement is needed for a wall up to the boundary line, the neighbour just needs not to object in writing.

Excavations

If the planned work is an excavation within the distance/depth covered by the Party Wall Act, the notice needs to be served at least one month before the planned start day of the work. Neighbouring parties must give written agreement within 14 days or a dispute is deemed to have occurred.

See below regarding what happens in the event of a dispute/objection.

What happens if a dispute arises

If agreement cannot be reached between neighbouring parties, the process is as follows:
  • A Surveyor or Surveyors is/are appointed to determine a fair and impartial Award, either:
    • An 'Agreed Surveyor' (someone acceptable to all parties).
      or
    • Each party appoints their own Surveyor to represent the individual parties.
    The first option should be cheaper as the costs should be reduced - the Surveyor (or Surveyors) will decide who pays the fees - usually it will be the party undertaking the work; the exception being where the owner of the adjoining property calls on the Surveyor unnecessarily. It should be noted that any Surveyor(s) must act within their statutory responsibilities and propose a fair and impartial Award.
  • The Agreed Surveyor, or the individual Surveyors jointly, will produce an Award which must be fair and impartial to all parties.
  • Once an Award has been made, all parties have 14 days to appeal to a County Court against the Award.

Once you have agreement

Once you have agreement, all work must comply with the notice. All the agreements should be retained to ensure that a record of the granted permission is kept; a subsequent purchaser of the property may wish to establish that the work was carried out in accordance with the Party Wall Act requirements.

Common neighbour disputes

Access to a neighbour’s land for repairs

If you want to carry out repairs to property or land you may need to have access to your neighbouring property or land in order to carry out these repairs.

There may be a right of entry specifically for the purposes of inspection or repair in the property’s legal documents. If there is no such right, or no agreement can be reached, the law allows you as the person wishing to carry out repairs to apply to the county court for an access order allowing you to enter your neighbour’s land to carry out the repairs. There is a fee for the application.

If you wish to apply for an access order you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a solicitor or a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Amenities which are shared

Who is responsible

There may be amenities shared between two or more properties, for example, drains and pipes, shared drives or the roof of a block of flats. Responsibility for maintaining them and rights to use them, for example, putting up an aerial on a shared chimney, are usually outlined in the property’s legal documents.

The legal documents may give you as a property owner rights over your neighbour’s property. Sometimes they are not included in the legal documents but have arisen out of long, continuous and unchallenged use (usually 20 years). A right to use, for example, a pipe through a neighbour’s property implies a right to go on that neighbour’s property to undertake repairs, although any damage incurred to that property must be made good. If access is refused, an application can be made to a county court for an access order - see above.

Repairs

Where there is a shared amenity which is in need of repair the first step is to find out who is responsible for repairs. However, the legal documents may not always provide clear evidence and, in this case, it is probably best to settle in advance that the costs will be shared between owners.

The next stage will probably be to get a surveyor or architect to inspect and report on the part of the property requiring repairs. Estimates will have to be sought and finally a contract made with builders. It is essential that at each stage when a cost is incurred the household initiating the repairs has the consent of the other parties responsible.

If some or all of the property involved is rented, the landlord may be liable for repairs.

In England and Wales, for information on the landlord’s obligations to carry out repairs, see 11.0.0.6. Common problems with renting.

For information on how to get a landlord to carry out repairs, see Getting repairs done while renting.

Boundaries, fences and walls

Establishing the boundaries and ownership

If a dispute arises between neighbours about the boundary between their properties, it will be necessary to establish who owns the disputed land. The primary evidence will be contained in the legal documents. Clear evidence of this kind is normally conclusive.

However, the boundaries between properties can differ from those described in the title documents or lease in certain circumstances. The most common are where they have been changed by agreement or by encroachment (occupation without permission).

If you think that the boundaries are not defined in the title document or lease, or that the boundaries have been changed by agreement or encroachment, you will probably need to get legal advice from a specialist.

For more information about using a solicitor, see Using a solicitor.

However, you may also wish to try mediation first as a way of resolving your dispute with your neighbour (see under heading, How to deal with a neighbour dispute).

Duty to erect a barrier

Generally, as a property owner you do not have to erect and maintain any type of barrier, for example, a fence, wall, trellis or railing, around your property. Some of the exceptions include where:-

  • there is a clause in the title documents or lease
  • the property is next to a street and may cause danger
  • the land is used for dangerous purposes, for example, storing chemicals
  • a barrier is necessary to prevent animals, other than domestic pets, from straying.

Who can use or repair a barrier

In order to decide who can use and repair a barrier, it is first necessary to establish who owns it. The rules for working out ownership are the same as for other boundaries. In other words, the legal documents may specify who owns the fence, or you may have evidence that it belongs to you.

If the barrier belongs to one owner, they can use it as they wish, without the neighbour’s consent, providing it is safe. The neighbour has no rights over the barrier. For example, they could not use it to support trailing plants without the owner’s permission. If a fence is jointly owned, each neighbour can use it for support, provided neither makes it unsafe. Any repairs should be financed jointly.

As a property owner you do not have to repair your barrier unless the title documents or lease contains such obligations. However, if the barrier causes damage or injury, your neighbour could take you to court for compensation.

If as a property owner you have a barrier next to the street, this should be kept in good repair to prevent it becoming a nuisance or danger to people using the street. If a passer-by is injured by the barrier, for example, if it has barbed wire, or falls down on someone in the street, that person can take you to court for compensation.

Party walls

There are special rules covering structural work to walls which stand across the boundary of land belonging to different owners, or which are used by two or more owners to separate buildings. The owner must notify neighbours about any work they intend to carry out. These rules allow for the agreement or objection to any work within certain time limits, and compensation and temporary protection for buildings and property. If there is no agreement an independent surveyor can be appointed to decide what work can be done, and how and when.

Planning restrictions on barriers

Planning permission is not generally needed before erecting a fence or wall, provided it is no more than one metre in height if next to a highway, or two metres elsewhere. If you wish to exceed these limits, you will need to get planning permission from the local authority. There are no planning restrictions on the height of hedges.

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