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How to avoid the war of the walls; Ian Fowler, a director at CPBIGWOOD, warns home owners to beware the law on party walls if they want to avoid rows with the neighbours PROPERTYEXPERT.

I suspect that most of us have seen it happen neighbours nearly coming to blows across the garden wall.

Perhaps the wall is old and falling down; or maybe it's deemed not high enough to provide suf?cient privacy.

One party goes ahead and starts replacing it but doesn't bother informing next door.

The other owner thinks the new one is hideous and suspects the result may have been to pinch several inches off their garden. They take offence and a dispute breaks out.

So what actually is a party wall? The main types are - a wall that stands on the land of two or more owners and forms part of a building; a wall that stands on the land 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 Party Wall Act 1996 uses the expression "party structure". This could be a wall or ?oor partition or other structure separating buildings or parts of buildings in different ownership, such as in ?ats.

You don't need to notify anyone if you are only doing small jobs, such as putting up shelves and wall units, re-plastering, or electrical rewiring, for example.

However, a building owner proposing to start work covered by the Act must give adjoining owners notice of their intentions. Party wall notices have to be served either one or two months before work is due to start. The types of work covered include demolishing and/or rebuilding a party wall, increasing the height or thickness of a party wall, inserting a damp proof course, cutting into the party wall to take load bearing beams, or underpinning a party wall.

If you think any work you are proposing 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, noti?cation must be made. If in doubt, advice should be sought from your local Building Control Of?ce or professional surveyor/architect.

To keep the peace it would be a good idea to discuss your plans with your neighbour ?rst. You may ?nd that they have no objections, or would go halves with you on the work because they consider the job needs doing, too. Even if they are not 100 per cent supportive of your decision they will no doubt appreciate being asked for their opinion.

Adjoining owners can agree or disagree with what is proposed. Where they disagree, the Act, which is separate from obtaining planning permission or building regulations approval, provides a mechanism for reaching a resolution. However, it is not uncommon that people have a neighbour who goes ahead with the work without serving notice, either through ignorance or simply willfulness.

Most owners are shocked when they then ?nd out that there are no penalties for such behaviour and their only remedy is to apply to the courts for an injunction, something of an extreme measure and potentially costly. Especially as by the time they have got round to speaking to a solicitor it may be too late as the work has been completed.

And, getting into such a ?ght, can drag on interminably and land you in an even more expensive and stressful wrangle.

A bit like disputes over leylandii hedges.

Thankfully, most people have some level of courtesy and respect for their neighbour.

So the message is - it is always best to try and get agreement before starting on any such works and, if you cannot get agreement, don't go ahead unless you are absolutely sure that you are complying with all your obligations.


Ian Fowler
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 1, 2013
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