Extensions and building works can have an affect on walls and boundaries between you and your neighbors, known as Party Walls. In these cases, you must follow the procedures set out in the Party Wall etc. Act 1996.
The Party Wall Act exists to protect you and your neighbours. It sets out your responsibilities and obligations for work that might have an effect on other people’s property.
How party wall disputes arise
Because of the procedures required to be compliant with the Act, disputes can arise. You must issue the owner of the adjoining property a written notice 2-12 months before the start of the work. If they do not provide written consent to the work outlined in the notice within 14 days, you are in dispute.
A party wall dispute is not necessarily acrimonious. Disputes can arise simply because the property owner fails to respond. Your neighbour may also legally dispute your notice in order to be reassured that their interests won’t be adversely affected and to gain the legal protection of an Award.
Preventing party wall disputes
You can avoid disputes entirely by taking some steps before you begin your project. Communicating with your neighbours, identifying the legal owners of the property and clearly outlining the works you are planning help to prevent a dispute.
Discuss your plans with the adjoining owner
The simplest way to prevent a party wall dispute is to have an open and friendly discussion with the owner of the adjoining property before you issue written notice. Explain to them the work that you are planning, be honest about how this might impact their property and what you will do to mitigate this. They might have specific concerns or conditions that you can address in your plans to ensure that they will consent to your notice. Having a discussion before issuing the notice also helps to prevent another common cause of disputes – lack of response.
Identify the legal owner(s) of the property
One important consideration is identifying the legal owner or owners of the adjoining property. You may assume that the occupier is the legal owner, but it can save time and hassle to check. You can use the HM LAND REGISTRY ONLINE SEARCH to obtain a title summary or title register that will provide details of the legal owners.
Be clear about the works you are planning
The adjoining owner may dispute the notice to get greater clarity over the works to be done, or to ensure additional works are completed to mitigate any impacts to their property. Being clear about these from the outset can prevent disputes from arising.
What to do if a part wall dispute does arise
If you are in dispute with the adjoining owner, you can’t begin any work until the dispute is resolved and you have written consent, which takes the form of an Award.
If you have not already discussed the work with your neighbour, doing so at this stage could help to resolve the dispute. This can be particularly helpful if you have received no response.
Appointing a surveyor
To resolve the dispute, an independent PARTY WALL SURVEYOR must be engaged to draw up an impartial settlement.
You can engage anyone who is not party to the matter to act as surveyor. However they should have a good working knowledge of the Act and a detailed understanding of construction. An experienced PARTY WALL SURVEYOR can help you to reach an agreement and maintain good relations with your neighbours.
If both you and your neighbour agree, you can engage one surveyor, and Agreed Surveyor to act for both parties . However, if there is no agreement, you must each engage your own surveyor.
Agreed Surveyor If the adjoining owner agrees, you can appoint an Agreed Surveyor to act impartially for both parties. If the planned works are solely for your benefit, you will be responsible for covering the costs.
Individual surveyors The adjoining owner may choose to engage their own surveyor. The two surveyors will work together to reach a fair and impartial award. If they are unable to agree, they may engage a third surveyor to arbitrate. Again, you will typically be responsible for covering the fees.
If your neighbour won’t cooperate, you can engage a second surveyor to act on their behalf. In these cases it can help to get professional guidance. If you’d like some help with a party wall dispute, PLEASE GET IN TOUCH.
The role of the surveyor
The surveyor(s) will draw up a document referred to as an ‘Award’. This will detail the works that will be completed, when and how these will be done and make arrangements for access. Additionally, the award will often record the current condition of the two properties. If the planned work has shared benefit, the award will set out how you should share the costs.
The award is considered final and binding, unless it is appealed by either party.
How Stephen Hodge Associates can help
As Chartered Building Surveyors with experience of party wall disputes we’re often called on to act as an Agreed Surveyor. Our knowledge of the Party Wall Act and construction means that we can help to solve disputes quickly and with minimal disagreement.
We can provide advice and support at any stage of your project. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you to resolve a party wall dispute, PLEASE GET IN TOUCH.