Monday, June 05, 2006

On the Party Wall Act

What is the purpose of the Party Wall Act? First of all let me explain what the Party Wall Act is. It sets out to ensure that if you do work on your house, you don’t cause any consequential damage to your neighbours. It had existed since the year dot in London but the old Tory government, in all its wisdom, chose to extend its powers across the whole of England & Wales in 1996. Prior to that, if you caused damage to your neighbour’s property, they could sue you for compensation. You can still do this of course so arguably the Party Wall Act doesn’t make a huge difference to the way things stand between neighbours.

But it does make quite a difference to how you have to go about organising building work. It’s a red tape exercise par excellence, and it also causes frictions and fears where previously none existed.

By way of example, one of my old muckers, Phil, has just started on the rebuilding of a terraced house in central Cambridge. He is building a new wall, hard against the boundary. As it’s within 3 metres of the neighbours rear addition, the Party Wall Act had to be invoked. Back in the old days, a friendly chat with the neighbour would have sufficed. If undertaken with charm and tact, the neighbour would be willing to put up with the inconvenience of having scaffolding erected on their side of the boundary in exchange perhaps for some minor favour like repairing guttering or slipped slates. It came with the territory of owning a terraced house.

But now the first the neighbour gets to hear about it is when an official letter from a Party Wall Surveyor plops onto their doormat. The whole exchange starts off on a bad note: defensiveness and hostility are the watchwords. This particular neighbour was a single lady who immediately felt that she was about to be taken for a ride by unscrupulous builders and she called for the appointment of her own Party Wall Surveyor, which under the Act she is fully entitled to do, at the expense of the applicant. Letters get exchanged, surveyors make reports, the whole scene gets quasi-legal. Which means both expensive and time consuming. It ended up with her demanding that no builder should set foot on her side of the boundary and that any scaffolding needed to be erected to build the wall mustn’t touch any of her property. Neither measure will protect her property, which was the original purpose of the Act; instead it will just make the whole process much slower and more expensive to complete, as the wall will have to be built overhand from inside.

“The funny thing is,” said Phil, “you’d think from this exchange that she would be a real dragon but I have since spoken to her and she’s actually very nice. I just think she got freaked out by all the formal aspects of the Party Wall Act and over-reacted. It’s such a stupid, useless piece of legislation. No good comes of it and it’s yet another example of the simple act of building being made ridiculously complicated and confrontational.”



Blogger daiseee said...

The Party Wall Act serves no purpose when the neighbour simply ignores the rules and builds the party wall without informing the neighbour of her intentions which is what happened in our case. My neighbour verbally spoke to me about the extension which overhangs our property and announced work would begin Monday (three days notice). It was only several months after the completion of the build when our artchitect spotted the party wall but there doesn't seem to be any advice in any of the leaflets on what to do if the Act is simply ignored. Can anyone help in this matter?

5:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bought a house in 2002 the adjacent house was building an extension - it was later I realised they had overhung my property and were using space over my ground floor extension for storage space - several years later I put in for planning permission to build over my ground floor extension - this was passed - I attempted to get a party wall agreement with my neighbour he feigned no knowledge of the procedure - I had to get a party wall surveyor to serve notice - said neighbour then insisted on his own party wall surveyor he also consulted a solicitor who has advised him to sue the council as h wasn't allowed the same extension as me. I am now being told that I should pay for a new section of roof for him and must take all surface water from his house - despite his extension only being built in 2002 this is supposedly to enable my builder to erect scaffolding to build my roof. There has been no mention of his unlawful use of my property during this period or of the damage caused to my property by him running guttering and down pipes onto a flat roof on my property from his 2002 built extension. When I asked to see the party wall agreement for the 2002 work I was told one wasn't in existence.

I intend asking my builder if he can build from within my property and avoid scaffolding.

9:52 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you plan to do building work that comes within the Act then there is no reason not to go and speak to your neighbour. If your are both reasonable there's no reason you can't agree what is to be done - no need for surveyors at all. If you can't agree then luckily the party wall legisltaion gives you rights you wouldn't otherwise have - but to get those rights you need to involve a surveyor and you may need to pay for the other side's surveyor (it depends on who needs the work to be done). When the party wall procedures just applied to London then my firm and most chartered surveyors would barely charge for Awards on the average residential house; but that was then.

12:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If someone doing building work within the Party Wall Act doesn't serve notice you'll find there's little you can in reality do. The remedy is an interlocutory injunction - it means they have to stop the work pro tem, until the case can be heard. If you want to stop someone's building without proof then having paid your solicitor lots of money to apply for the injunction you have to undertake to pay compensation if it turns out you are wrong - meaning what they were doing without an Award wouldn't have damaged your building.
So in reality, you have to be pretty wealthly to stop someone's "un-Awarded" party wall activities. Where commecial buildings are involved unually the owner has professional advisers who make sure Awards are done. For residential Awards outside wealthy areas, the system is not very clever.

1:09 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...


I'm about to build an extension and my neighbours received an unsolicited letter from a rogue surveyor touting their services and have unwittingly signed them up. This surveyor is charging 3x the going rate and tells me they cannot be removed from the job. Surely this is extortion!

I’ve had various pieces of advice, including “ignore them and get on with it” and “withdraw the party wall notice and re-issue it” I’ve also spoken to some local surveyors who don’t seem to have a clue as to what my next step should be.

Any ideas?

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