If you’ve ever had anything to do with a party wall, you’ll already know complicated things can get, and what you need to do to in advance. If not, it’s wise to be prepared. Here are some of the most popular questions we get asked about party wall surveys, from your trusted party wall surveyor in London.
Is there any actual law around party walls?
Yes. It’s called the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 and it introduced a new way to resolve disputes between the owners of neighbouring properties because of one owner’s intention to carry out work affecting the party wall.
The Act itself is relatively new but the principles behind it date back to 1666. It was the Great Fire of London that originally drove a radical re-think of party wall construction, designed to prevent or restrict the spread of fire between next-door buildings. Before the Act, fires across multiple properties often meant expensive and complex lawsuits to resolve straightforward problems.
What is a Party Structure?
A Party Structure is simply any built structure that forms part of two or more buildings, shared by two or more owners. If you own a terraced house you’ll have Party Walls with your neighbours on each side, the walls you share.
When does the Party Wall Act apply?
The Act covers building work that lies along the boundary between two properties, is excavated within defined distances of shared and adjoining structures, or alters a party structure of any kind. This can mean cutting into the walls that divide terraced houses to put steel beams in for a loft conversion, or maybe digging down within three metres of a neighbour’s property to build the foundations for an extension.
Help – My neighbour has started building work but hasn’t officially informed me!
You have to get consent from adjoining owners when the work you’re doing will affect a party wall. If the homeowner doing the work hasn’t asked for your consent, they’re acting illegally, which means you can take legal action to stop them. The process takes place at County Court level, with a judge, and usually happens on a ‘cross-undertaking cost’ basis. If the neighbour isn’t conducting work illegally you’ll be liable for the costs incurred by an injunction, so it’s wise to take legal advice beforehand.
Can I start building before getting the ok?
No. You must have the right permissions before starting any work that affects a party structure.
I haven’t served notice to my neighbour but the work has already begun – Do I stop it?
In a word, yes. If you haven’t got consent from the neighbours or haven’t been through the Act’s dispute resolution procedure together, you are operating illegally and could be fined. If the works are part-way through you can’t carry on until you’ve given your neighbours’ notice to cover the rest of the work, and followed any other procedures you have to abide by according to the Act.
Can I do anything about the noise?
Sadly, no. You’re legally expected to put up with ‘reasonable disturbances’. At the same time, your neighbour must stick to health and safety legislation, environmental protection laws around noise and vibrations, and any working time restrictions.
What if there’s loss or damage?
If you suffer a ‘quantifiable’ loss because of the work taking place, and it falls under the Party Wall Act, you’ll be compensated.
Am I legally obliged to let the builders onto my premises?
Yes, the Party Wall Act allows it when the job can’t be done any other way. They’re supposed to give you 14 days’ notice, but if something urgent happens, like a broken water main, it will have to be put right straight away without notice or with very little. On the other hand, if there’s another way to access the property that doesn’t impact your property, even if it’s more expensive or inconvenient, that’s what your neighbours are supposed to do.
Do I need a surveyor?
Yes. They’ll create a ‘schedule of condition’, covering any adjoining parts of the building that may be at risk before the work begins. If the works cause any damage, this schedule of condition will protect both parties from unfair or misleading claims. It also benchmarks the building’s condition before the work begins, so it can be properly restored if damaged.
Help – I can’t get the money I’m owed from my neighbour!
If your place is damaged by works covered by the Act, you can let the building owner’s contractor make good and mend the damage or ask for payment in lieu. There will be a formal timescale during which your neighbour must pay, and if they fail to pay you can take the matter to the Magistrate’s Court.
Need a party wall surveyor London?
If you need a reliable, professional, RICS party wall surveyor in London, we’ll be delighted to talk through the project with you and make sure you tick all the right legal boxes