A party wall is a wall either at or on the edge of a property.
The most common party wall is one that is positioned on the boundary separating neighbours’ land, but it is actually part of the property where one owner’s building stands.
There are party walls that have been built that form part of two neighbours’ properties, so the next door neighbour’s property stands enclosed by the wall.
The boundary dividing property frequently runs straight through the centre of a wall or along one edge of it. There is no set rule about its position, so it can be drawn anywhere through the wall.
When trying to understand the laws in relation to party walls it is easier to assume that the whole party wall belongs to both the owners who share it.
If you wish to undertake any work on a wall that acts as a division between your property and the neighbour’s property, or you are constructing a new wall near or on the boundary between yours and your neighbour’s properties, then it might be necessary to give a party wall notice to your neighbour. Giving notice and getting permission from a neighbour is commonly referred to as a party wall agreement.
There are different categories of notice depending on where the wall is, as follows:
Party wall issues can become quite complicated. To speed the agreement process up it is important to get legal help when selecting the right documents and to ensure that they go to the people concerned.
You will need to decide which notices are required and who are to be the intended recipients. The next step is creating the required party wall notices, which should include the necessary forms that will need to be signed so that you can go ahead with your party wall project. You should find out how the notices should be served and be ready to handle any disputes that so often arise.
There are two terms you should be aware of when dealing with party wall issues. The first is "building owner", who is the person wishing to make changes or repairs to his or her party wall, and the second is "adjoining owners", who are the neighbours who share the party wall.
The person likely to serve the notice will be the person wishing to undertake the work, normally the building owner. If there happens to be more than one building owner and they are joint tenants, all of the building owners have to have their names included for the party wall notice to be valid. In a joint tenancy, joint tenants own a property together and they do not possess separate shares.
More than one notice may be applicable to you, such as giving one of your neighbours a notice regarding a new wall straddling a boundary, and a wall being near enough to a building owned by another person who will need to be given a notice regarding the construction of foundations that are less than six metres from their property.
Also, sometimes your work may overlap into different categories, such as work on a party wall you share with a neighbour and a new wall construction that could be included in the same project.
Who should be sent a notice will depend on your project, as you may need to send out notices to a number of different people who may not necessarily share the same boundary. The first recipients of your notices will be any property owner situated over the party wall, and there could be several people involved.
The people who should receive the notices are those who:
Often it is necessary to hand out two notices if the person occupying the next door property possesses a long lease, so a notice for the party wall will have to be submitted to both this occupier and the property owner too.
If you are carrying out excavation work like foundation digging, you may need to hand out a notice to building owners who are within six metres of the excavations.
The first course of action is to discuss your party wall plans with your neighbours before sending any of them party wall notices.
Explaining your project face to face in the area you intend to do the party wall work makes negotiations easier. This can assist you in avoiding any confusion concerning your plans, and the other parties can ask questions.
Your neighbours may not take kindly to a party wall notice appearing in their letterbox without you discussing the matter with them first. Aside from the more informal side of things, the party wall notice should be in a written form and include a detailed description of any work to be carried out so that it is clear to all parties concerned.
If the parties agree, you may submit the notice to them by email. However, do remember that if any excavations are going to take place, plans of these need to be included in your party wall notice.
Your party wall notice should include the names of all owners of the property. For example, if a couple who is married have joint tenancy of a property, then both should be included in the notice. This applies to you and anyone else who owns your property.
If the property besides yours is empty, the notice should be quite simply addressed to “the owner”.
Any work that is being conducted on party walls that are already in place requires issuing a notice no less than two months prior to the commencement of the work.
If construction of a wall that is completely new is to be situated on top of the boundary line, then no less than a month’s notice should be given prior to the commencement of work.
This time frame is also required for any excavations, such as the digging of foundations close to the boundary line.
The party wall notice you dispatch has a one-year validity period from the date that you deliver it to any of your neighbours. If commencement of the work has not begun within 12 months, then another party wall notice will need to be sent out.
Send the notices out as early as you can so that if any disputes arise they can be resolved as soon as possible, which will ensure you can commence work as scheduled. With your neighbours' agreement you may be able to start your party wall project earlier.
To start with, if you intend to lay any specific foundations that are likely to straddle your neighbour’s property, then plans will need to be included. You may be able to get these from your architect or builder.
When work is to take place on old walls, you must include the following information in your notice:
For building new walls or a party fence wall across the boundary, the notice will need to include the following information:
For digging foundations or other excavating work close to any neighbouring property, your notice has to include the following information:
If the neighbour has given the go-ahead to proceed, then the work can begin straight away. If there seems to be a delay in signing the paperwork but the neighbour had agreed orally, then it is worth your while to follow up the matter with your neighbour(s) as soon as possible; otherwise you may end up in a formal dispute.
If the work is on an existing wall and you have had no response within 14 days, then you are in dispute mode with your neighbour. This can be reconciled by appointing a surveyor to work in the interests of both of you, or you can get your own individual surveyor to represent your interests.
If there happens to be anything that your neighbours do not like in your plans, or if there is some work to the party wall that they would like you to undergo while you are carrying out your own work, then your neighbours can, if they wish to, serve a counter-notice to you.
If you receive a counter-notice asking you to alter any of your plans and you agree with these suggested changes, you can say you do agree to the counter-notice and you can then begin work. Failure to agree to the suggested changes means you must engage a surveyor.
If you are undertaking work on an older wall or you want to do some building on the boundary and a response has not been received, then you will be “in dispute” mode, which means both you and the neighbour affected will have to engage a surveyor.
Apart from party wall issues, people who live close to each other also need to deal with other shared facilities and the need to access a neighbour’s property to complete a project.
Disputes over party walls can result in paying out money to help resolve the issues. However, there are other neighbourly conflicts too, which involve shared amenities. This includes chimneys, driveways and drains. In apartment blocks the roof could be considered a shared amenity.
In most cases, those who are given the responsibility for maintaining shared amenities will find the relevant information contained in legal documents relevant to the property’s ownership. This is not always the case, though, and negotiations may be necessary if work is to take place near these facilities. No work should begin, even if it is urgent repair work, until permission has been granted by the parties affected.
There are situations where you may need to access an area in a neighbour’s property so that you can repair something that you use, such as a leaking pipe. Usually, if the pipe or other structure passes inside the neighbour’s property, you will not be denied the right to access it, but permission should be granted from the affected neighbour first.
Neighbours normally agree on access for specific reasons, but agreement is not always forthcoming so it may be necessary to lodge an application to get a court order with the County Court so that you can be guaranteed access.
If you receive a notice from a neighbour stating that they are intending to commence work on a party wall, there are several options open to you, but it depends on the sort of work to take place.
If your choice is one of the last two, then after a 14-day period a dispute will have arisen, so you should make sure you lodge your answer within 14 days of receiving the notice.
If you do not give your consent or fail to respond within the set time period for a new wall that is astride the boundary, then events proceed as follows:
If you have been sent a notice for a line of junction for a new wall just on the building owner’s land, you need not respond to the notice unless the building owner:
If your choice is one of the last two options, then after 14 days there will be a dispute.
If you are willing to approve your neighbour’s plans, then it is necessary to send a written response. If the building owner is building a wall that is on his or her land only, then no consent from you is required.
If you do not have a form to sign, then you should ensure your response is a clear statement agreeing to the work going ahead.
Failing to respond within a 14-day period will mean a dispute will take place, but if you do not agree then it is better to discuss it with the neighbour(s) concerned before giving your notice so an amicable solution can be sought.
If you must present a counter-notice, in which you could object to the plans or request other work, then the counter-notice has to include the full details of any additional work that the owner adjoining requires and plans that reveal the work.
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