Obeying the rules of the Party; If your home shares a wall with another property and you're planning work such as an extension, building improvements or repairs, you should be aware of the provisions of the Party Wall Act.
YAll seems fine until you find out that the planning and building regulation approval you received from the local authority wasn't the only legal requirement you had to comply with before the foundations could be dug, or the boundary wall could be knocked down.
Since July 1997, the Party Wall etc Act 1996 has been in force in England and Wales. It applies when a building owners - those arranging the building works - propose to undertake certain types of building work to their property about which they need to notify their adjoining owner.
Take, for instance, a typical Tyneside terraced house with a small yard to the back enclosed by six foot-high brick walls.
To build a single or two storey extension off the back off the house usually involves taking down the boundary walls, cutting into an adjoining wall for the sake of inserting a flashing or beam and, excavating within three or six metres of a neighbouring property for the purposes of installing deeper foundations And all of this requires a notice to be served on the adjoining owners affected by the works.
So what exactly is a party wall? Some party walls stand astride the boundary of land belonging to two or more different owners, while others separate two or more buildings. Others may not be part of a building, such as party fence walls, but stand astride the boundary line of different owners and separate them, like a garden wall.
Although the Party Wall Act is described as an "enabling" Act, it is important for those arranging the building works to serve the necessary Party Wall notice or notices on the adjoining owners at the correct time.
Where works are to be carried out at the line of junction or where excavations are being undertaken within three or six metres of an adjoining owner's property, notices must be served at least one month before works are undertaken.
Where works are being carried out to a party wall, party structure or party fence wall, notices must be served two months in advance of the works.
Once served, the adjoining owners have a right to consent or dissent to the works.
If they consent, the building owner can proceed once the notice period has expired.
However, if they dissent, or fail to respond within a specific timeframe, then a dispute is deemed to have arisen and a form of contract known as a Party Wall Award must be put in place before the works can proceed.
The award is often prepared by party wall surveyors appointed by the owners in dispute - unless both sides agree on one surveyor to act for both parties, who is then known as the agreed surveyor.
If you are carrying out "notifiable" building works, such as digging out for new foundations or building on the line of junction, then you will have the right to access your neighbour's property and you will be given a reasonable period of time in which to complete the works.
If the works are not notifiable then you must obtain your neighbour's permission and this might involve putting an access licence or other legal agreement in place, which can sometimes involve having to pay your neighbour compensation for the benefit of working from their property.
It is critical that the information shown on a Party Wall Notice is correct, otherwise a revised notice will have to be re-issued and this could result in the works being delayed.
Although anyone can serve a Party Wall Notice, if in doubt, it is recommended that advice be taken from an experienced party wall surveyor.
Works should not be allowed to proceed without the relevant notices being served and agreements put in place, otherwise it could result in the adjoining owner taking out a court injunction against the building owner.
If you're contemplating any building works to your property, firstly establish whether adjoining owners need to be notified, and if so, serve a Party Wall Notice immediately to avoid delays.
Chris Scott is an associate of Smithers Purslow Consulting Engineers and Surveyors, email email@example.com