A quick guide to The Party Wall Act 1996

“A party wall surveyor represents the [party] wall and are impartial to either owner” – Martyn Furse: Malcolm Hollis, Building Surveyors

A party wall is a structure that separates property belonging to different owners. That structure could be a wall or floor between buildings or a wall between two spaces or gardens.   A party wall, fence or structure is defined as such providing the boundary line between the properties severs or bisects the wall.   If the boundary line is one side or other of the wall, only the enclosing part of the wall applies and work outside of that area is not covered by the act.

The Party Wall Act was created in 1996. It is intended to provide a mechanism for resolving disputes between neighbouring owners when one or other commits to develop their property that presents certain risks to the others property by virtue of associated construction works, which are defined in the act.

In short, the act is required if structural works or alteration to a party wall is expected or ground works within prescribed zones.   You do not need to utilise the act simply for works being carried out adjacent to a neighbouring property.

Below are some interesting key facts about party walls and the act:

  • If a notice is served and consented by the neighbour there is no need for an award. Awards are only issued after a dispute is lodged
  • Technically, you can build a wall up against the boundary line between your property and your neighbour without need for a notice or party wall award, which may include a foundation bridging the boundary line
    • When you are digging a trench* (*foundation, drainage, basement or other) within 3.0m of a neighbouring structure AND expecting that trench to be deeper than the neighbour foundation then a notice must be served
  • Where you are digging a trench* within 6.0m AND your foundation (including piled foundations) is expected to be deeper than a 45 degree line drawn from the bottom of the neighbouring structure’s foundation then a notice must be served
  • If damage is caused to a neighbouring property when development work is taking place it must be assessed to be directly attributable as a result of the notified work, not just the fact that building work is taking place next door.

There are horror stories about party wall awards but in proportion to the party wall notices served these are very few. The bottom line and simplicity of the act is that if a conversation between both owners takes place it need only use but an hour or two for each owner. Even then, should a dispute be lodged, the act is designed to minimise the work and time required to resolve it.

The act is a legal requirement to be followed when construction work for a development falls within the guidelines it sets out.   It is not a means to halt work or a development and delaying tactics can be frowned upon.   However, a legal injunction can be sort to pause proceedings if construction work commences without a notice and/or award being submitted.   Above all the act is there to protect both adjoining owners and should not be considered as a one sided affair.

The bottom line advice would nearly always be: ‘if in doubt, submit a notice’ as it is better to be safe and agree the works than not and result in an issue.   If assumptions are necessary it is better to make worse case scenarios, again, to avoid doubt.

The act details the circumstances when a notice is needed to be served and any action required should a dispute occur. You can find an easy to read guide, written by the government, with supporting example documents that enable lay persons to complete the necessary stages themselves, if appropriate, at the following link here


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