Party Wall Surveys under The Party Wall etc. Act 1996

What is a Party Wall?

If there is a wall between your property and your neighbour, you may at some stage have wondered who it belongs to. In actual fact, it belongs to both of you. A great many properties and buildings of many different kinds – residential and commercial, office and industrial, institutional and retail – share dividing walls, fences and floors that are in fact jointly owned by the owners of both properties. As both parties are legally allowed to lay claim to them, they are called “party walls”. 

Definitions

Party Wall

This is a wall which either

  1. Forms part of a building and stands on lands belonging to different owners, or
  2. So much of a wall as separates buildings belonging to different owners

Party Wall Fence

This is a wall which does not form part of a building and stands on lands belonging to different owners, such as a garden wall, but it does not include a timber fence.

What are the legal issues that arise from Party Walls?

There are 20 Sections to the The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 however, for the purpose of this notification we will identify the initial legal action required before any works can commence.

As they are owned by both sets of owners, any construction work that affects party walls must be carried out with mutual consent. This includes the building of extensions, totally new buildings and any structural repair that takes place, including raising a wall, underpinning and any other structural work. Often this is perfectly straightforward and there is no dispute. Sometimes, however, when the two sets of owners have different interests and different ideas about their shared property, problems may arise.

It is for this reason that The Party Wall etc Act came into force on the 1st July 1997. The Party Wall etc Act 1996 provides impartial objective solutions to issues that arise concerning party walls. The law covers almost all commercial and residential properties throughout the UK.

When is a Party Wall Survey necessary?

The Party Wall etc Act 1996 decrees that written notification must be given to all interested parties before the commencement of any work covered under the Act. There are three common situations where a Party Wall Survey will be necessary in order to determine whether what action is required, these are covered by the following Sections under the Act.

Section 1 of the Act concerns works involving new building at or on the line of junction, and a notice period of one month is required before the works are due to commence.

Section 2 of the Act concerns works to an existing Party Wall or structure, and a notice of two months is required before the works are due to commence.

Section 6 of the Act concerns excavating (such as digging foundations, drains or reducing the level of the ground) to certain depths and within certain distances of the adjoining owner (s) property, and a notice period of 1 month is required before works are due to commence.

The Act says that it is the duty of the building owner to serve the notice on the adjoining owner. However, very often this is done by a surveyor acting on the building owner’s behalf, providing that the surveyor has been given written authority by the building owner to do so.

When a notice is served, the adjoining owner is generally deemed to have dissented if he does not reply within 14 days.

However, it must be noted that the building owner and adjoining owner may come to any agreement about the works at any stage. In such a case, they will not need to rely on any award made by the surveyors.

Clearly, the response received at this juncture depends on the extent of the work to be carried out, but in many cases, the other parties will provide their written consent to the work and the matter need go no further. However, in some cases, the neighbour might not approve of the proposed changes, or they may not respond at all, in which case there are legal procedures in place for appointing a party wall surveyor to settle the matter.

The Party Wall etc Act 1996 requires that an independent, qualified party wall surveyor be called in to settle any disputes. Marwood Surveyors have the relevant qualifications and experience to resolve any and all disputes over party walls.

Our party wall surveyors will first assess the situation, taking careful consideration of the proposed work, how it will affect the party wall, each of the parties involved and any other influencing factors. Then we will arrive at a fair and reasoned solution.

What is the result of a Party Wall Survey and serving of Notices?

If following the survey, and the serving of the relevant notices by the building owner on the adjoining owner (s) that no response is received within the 14-day notice period then the adjoining owner (s) are deemed to be in dissent and therefore following the appointment of the agreed surveyor (s) for both parties then an Award has to be put in place.

The Award is a legal document prepared by the surveyor (s). This award represents a fair compromise of both parties’ interests and prescribes the required format of the work to be carried out. An Award should confine itself to the work relating to the notices and generally not include matters outside of this. For example, if the notice relates to section 6 of the Act, which only relates to excavation work, then such matters as the building that is erected upon the foundations are irrelevant.

To accompany the Award a conditions survey of the adjoining owners property must be carried out, for example, the condition of the internal wall, ceiling and floor finishes together with external fabric conditions if applicable, to areas adjacent to the works. A photographic conditions survey is acceptable.

Often the award might decree that the party carrying out the work does so within sociable hours or in a particular manner. Although ultimately this may raise the costs of construction for the first party, it means they are not liable for legal action from the other party once the work has commenced.

The Award should not include matters relating to any easements, covenants, planning conditions, personal matters between the parties or generally anything unrelated to the intended works. It should also not include any matters agreed between the parties.

Failure to fully comply with The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 can lead to construction work being delayed or being declared unlawful, not to mention costly legal procedures being brought against that party.

If you require advice concerning a Party Wall matter, call us today on 0121 546 0393.

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