If you are considering a renovation or extension of your property which adjoins another property, you might be wondering about party wall agreements. After all, a party wall is a shared wall between your property and your neighbor’s property.
The Party Wall Act 1996 refers to shared walls between terraced or semi-detached homes. It also applies to maisonettes or flats (apartments) and also garden boundary walls.
The Act covers alterations which would directly affect the structures and the effect of excavations 3 to 6 meters (10 to 20 feet) of the boundary if the foundations might be impacted.
This means if you are considering work on a shared structural wall, you have to get a party wall agreement between yourself and your neighbor.
Party Wall Requirements
These are typical requirements of a party wall agreement:
- Guidelines describing the proposed work
- Details and drawings of how the work will progress
- The condition of the adjoining property with photos if possible
- Neighbor’s survey fee
- Both addresses
- Contractor’s public liability insurance details
- Building owner indemnities in the neighbor’s favor
- Working hours
- Details and access arrangements for surveyors
- Time limit before commencement of work (typically 12 months)
Party Wall Work Examples
Very minor jobs don’t need party wall agreements and those would include things like adding sockets or drilling into the wall to hang a picture or shelf.
There are various types of work which might require a party wall agreement though, including the following:
- Demolition and rebuilding of a party wall
- Cutting into a wall for beam bearing (such as for an attic conversion) or flashings or damp-proof course installation
- Underpinning the party wall’s whole thickness
- Making the party wall thicker or the wall higher
If you don’t get a party wall agreement, you risk your neighbor taking civil action and you might get an injunction against you to stop any more work until an agreement is reached between both parties.
This of course can make your project more expensive and also delay it.
Your builder might want to be compensated for the time he can’t work or he might take another job and be unable to finish yours for weeks or months.
Furthermore, if your neighbors can prove your work resulted in a loss to them, the work itself might have to be removed and this can also be the case if you don’t stick to the terms outlined in a party wall agreement you both signed.
The Right Way to Issue a Party Wall Agreement
You have to serve a minimum of 8 weeks’ notice if building work is going to affect a party wall. Excavations only require 4 weeks’ notice.
First you should chat to your neighbors explaining your plans and then you can write to the owners of every property concerned.
Give them your details as well as a description of the work and the proposed beginning date. Include access requirements.
You might find that several neighbors will be affected if you’re in an urban setting and you need to write to them all.
If a property is leased then contact the owner of the building as well as the tenant.
What if My Neighbor Disagrees?
Your neighbor has 2 weeks to either agree with, or refuse, the proposed works. This gives them adequate time to consider the proposed works. If they agree you don’t need a party wall agreement which will save fees for everyone.
It’s best to discuss the work proposals before serving notice. If your neighbor is happy with your suggested works they might simply say they don’t mind.
Get this in writing from them and no one needs to pay any fees. However, they might either refuse to agree to the work or they might fail to respond to the letter.
In this case, you can contact them to discuss the matter and find out whether a compromise can be reached.
It might be that you have to compensate them for any damage caused by the work or provide temporary protection for adjoining buildings on their property.
Let’s say you want to install something that will decrease how much natural light the neighbor gets, they can either refuse or agree so long as you can agree on compensation.
If you cannot reach a satisfactory agreement with the neighbor, this is known as being ‘in dispute’.
You can still attempt to contact the neighbor and see if you can find a compromise or other agreement. You might get a counter-notice from them which changes some of the works, such as working hours or the scope of the planned works.
You can either agree to or disagree with these amendments. It’s important to make sure everything is done in writing so there are no misunderstandings.
What if They Still Refuse?
You will need to hire a surveyor to create a Party Wall Award explaining details of the proposed work if you can’t reach an agreement with the neighbor.
If your neighbor hires the same surveyor, this means only one set of fees instead of two. The neighbor can hire a different surveyor if they choose, at your expense.
If the surveyor(s) reach an agreement, the work can continue. If they can’t reach an agreement, then you will need a third (or second) surveyor on top of that.
It can cost around £800 ($1100 US) per surveyor, so if there are several homeowners all wanting to use different surveyors this can add up fast.
Once everything is finalized and finally agreed upon, the neighbor cannot deny you access to their property to undertake any of the work or stop it from going ahead.
What Happens if the Neighbor Complains about Noise or Dust?
The Environmental Protection Act of 1990 means the local authority will investigate complaints about unreasonable building work factors like noise or dust if it impacts their health for example.
The local authority will try to resolve things amicably, but if they take action such as restricting working hours or delivery times, you should comply with this else risk prosecution.