Party Wall Agreements & Neighbourly Disputes
We recently got a call from a client who was extremely angry with their next door neighbour who had started demolishing a chimney breast on a shared party wall. The client wanted to know if the council could serve some sort of enforcement notice to stop the neighbour undertaking such works; unfortunately, no such council department exists.
Clients are sometimes shocked to learn that the only ‘enforcement’ route is to get an injunction through the court as the case now becomes a common law matter.
An injunction via the courts can be costly and lengthy to obtain.
The notices under Party Wall Act must be served at least 1-2 months before starting work, however the more notice you give the better. The exact time would depend on the part of the Party Wall Act that applies to the situation.
Most reasonable neighbours will be very considerate before embarking on an party wall eligible project such as a rear extension or dormer loft conversion. However; you can count on some neighbours totally disregarding the Party Wall Act, sometimes by accident or due to lack of awareness and sometimes, unfortunately, with intent.
It is there always good to be vigilant; and so if you hear the sound of skip lorry reversing and planting an empty skip in your neighbour’s driveway – chances are that they are getting some work done which could fall under the Party Wall Act. It would be good to use such a welcoming opportunity to discuss the potential work with your neighbour and how you, as an adjoining owner, can be under the Party Wall act.
Serving a Party Wall Notice
There are various free party wall notice templates that can be downloaded (try googling free party wall notice template) and filled in and served to adjoining neighbours. You can however appoint a party wall surveyor to undertake this for you.
If you are the one who will be doing the building, extending or converting then you normally require to give two months’ notice to your neighbour for construction works which effect a party wall or boundary. It is shorted for excavations along the party line, only one month is required here.
Once you serve a party wall notice, your neighbour has 14 days to reply. There are a few scenarios that can play out here:
1) Your neighbour approves your building intentions and writes to you to that effect. This is usually the most fruitful outcome for homeowners as it means you do not need to appoint a Party Wall Surveyor to prepare a Party Wall Award. However, you are not totally off the hook. It would be prudent to take lots of photographs with your neighbour of their property and agree on what the condition of their property is, particularly in close proximity of your shared party wall.
2) If you do not fancy option 1 above, you could always appoint a party wall surveyor to prepare a schedule of condition and do the legwork for you, it will cost you though.
If your neighbour rejects (or dissents) by either not responding within 14 days of your notice then a Party Wall Award is required.
With this, you and your neighbour can appoint 1 x Agreed Surveyor within ten days, who can act impartially for both neighbours.
The agreed surveyor represents both neighbours in a impartial way and so it is important to ensure there are no conflicts of interest i.e. appointing the architect who drew up your loft floor plans to now also become the agreed surveyor. Conflicts of interest raise suspicion between neighbours and can often be problematic.
The Agreed Surveyor (a neutral one) will usually go on to produce the party wall award. A site visit is usually required to be undertaken of your neighbour’s property so the Agreed Surveyor can draft the proposed works, a schedule of condition backed up with photographic evidence of your neighbour’s home.
There is an option for each homeowner to appoints their own surveyor. This means that there are two surveyors working on the case between you and your neighbour. A word of warning though – this is the most expensive route to go down. If you are the one who intends to build, then you are required to cover the cost of your own surveyor plus your neighbour’s!
Common home improvement and refurbishment projects that fall under the party wall act are:
1. Ground floor rear extensions.
2. Dormer loft conversions.
Ground Floor Rear Extensions
Usually, a trench foundation approximately 1 meter deep is laid to act as the main load bearing element for ground floor rear extensions. The digging required usually invokes the party wall act and you would normally be required to serve a party wall notice to your adjoining neighbours.
Dormer Loft Conversions
Dormer loft conversions usually require steel beams to span between party walls. One of the ways this is done is by ‘cutting in’ to the party wall, installing a concrete padstone within the party wall and installing the steel structural beam on top of that. This type of work would invoke the party wall act and you would normally be required to serve a party wall notice to your adjoining neighbours.
Communication is always key. Most neighbourly disputed can be resolved with good, clear and reasonable communication. Sometimes the smallest of compromises can make all the difference to a disgruntled neighbour as can knocking on your neighbour’s front door with a huge smile, a box of chocolates in one hand and you proposed design plans in the other!