If you are about to embark on an extension project, or are planning a house renovation and live in a terraced or semi-detached house, then you need to know about party wall agreements. To give you a helping hand, our guide unravels the Party Wall Act and answers any questions you might have about what you can and cannot do.
The Party Wall Act 1996 applies to houses in England and Wales and was devised to prevent building work that could compromise the structural integrity of any shared wall (party wall) or adjoining properties. The Party Wall Act can be used to stop disputes between neighbours and to help resolve them if they should arise.
The Party Wall Act 1996 does not apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland where common law is used to settle party wall issues.
A party wall agreement is needed if you plan on carrying out any building work near or on a party wall. You must tell your neighbours, provide them with a Party Wall Notice and come up with a Party Wall Agreement in writing. If you use a builder or an architect then they should be able to advise you on this, although they will not serve the notice for you.
The following works require you to obtain a Party Wall Agreement:
A Party Wall Notice must be given to your neighbours to provide them with notice of the works you intend to carry out to the party wall in question, between two months and a year in advance of the work starting.
Planning permission is not required to serve a party wall notice and, because you will have up to a year to start work once the notice has been served, it is a good idea to do this as soon as possible in order to avoid delays. You should speak to your neighbours in person first before serving written notice in order to reassure them that you are taking the proper route and precautions. This should help you avoid disputes or misunderstandings, and enable a swift agreement to be written up.
You could also give your neighbour details of the Party Wall Act to help them understand the process — point them in the direction of the Party Wall information section on the Government's website.
In order to formally serve notice, you should write to your affected neighbour(s), including your contact information, comprehensive details of the work that you have planned, the date that work will start, as well as any access requirements over their property (perhaps to get materials or equipment onto site). In the case of adjoining leasehold properties, you must serve notice to the building’s owners as well as to the tenant(s) living there.
A handy guide, along with Party Wall Notice templates can be found on the Government’s website here. It is wise to enclose a reply letter and envelope for the neighbours to sign and return — which, if you have spoken to them before sending, should not come as a surprise.
Once your neighbour receives your Party Wall Notice, they have several options:
You must wait for a response — your neighbour should let you know, in writing, within 14 days if they consent. The best case scenario is that they agree to all the works, in writing, meaning you will not require a party wall agreement, which saves on fees.
A counter notice must be issued within a month of your notice. If your neighbours don’t respond within the above timescales then the dispute resolution process begins.
Whilst failing to get a Party Wall Agreement is not actually a legal offence, not only will you be breaching a ‘statutory duty’ but you also risk having to pay for damage that wasn’t your fault. Your neighbour could claim their property has been damaged by your work and with no details or proof of the previous state of the property (which a party wall notice would have given you) there is not much you can do.
The courts tend to take a poor view of failure to serve a party wall notice and you may be ordered to pay for repairs which, in reality, may not be your responsibility. In addition, your neighbours could take civil action against you and have an injunction issued to prevent any further work until a party wall agreement is arranged. This will delay the project and could increase costs.
If, after serving notice, your neighbour either refuses consent or fails to respond, you are considered to be ‘in dispute.’
You have a few options here. Firstly, you could contact your neighbour, listen to their concerns and try to come to an agreement you are both happy with. This is the ideal.
They might write to you with a counter notice. These notices usually request changes to the work specified, or additional works, or sometimes conditions such as restricted working hours. If you can both agree on these amended terms, you should put them in writing and continue. Your neighbour may need to meet a share of the costs of any additional work that they ask for and that will benefit them.
If an agreement is out of the question then you will need to appoint a party wall surveyor. You could appoint a surveyor to work for both of you, or each appoint your own. The surveyor will arrange a Party Wall Award, setting out details of the work.
The Party Wall Award is a legal document setting out what, how and when work can be carried out and who will pay for it (including surveyor’s fees). If you are not happy with the award, you can appeal against it at a county court, filing an ‘appellant’s notice’ to explain why you are launching an appeal.
In many cases people find they do not require the services of a party wall surveyor.
If your neighbour responds to your notice giving permission in writing that works can commence, there is usually no need to appoint a surveyor.
Either way, you are still responsible for ensuring any damage caused during the works is repaired. Inspect the wall with your neighbour before work starts and take and share photos of the wall in order to avoid later disputes — for example existing cracks. Some people decide to ask a surveyor to carry out a condition survey at this stage in order to minimise the risk of disputes.
If your neighbour does not give permission, you will need a Party Wall Award and, therefore, a party wall surveyor. Usually you and your neighbour will use just one surveyor (a good idea as it means only one set of fees).
Fees vary, but on average, a Party Wall Award costs around £1,000 in total.
Not all work to party walls requires a party wall agreement. These include minor works such as drilling into the wall internally to fit kitchen units or shelving. Having the wall plastered or adding or replacing electrical wiring or sockets will not require an agreement either.