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A party wall is one that is shared between two or more properties. I has nothing to do with parties!

Any work that affects the Party Wall needs permission from the adjoining owner. In the UK it is usually the case that any work listed with the local Council for planning permission, will then result in a scary letter from 'experts' saying that your house will collapse if you don't employ them to do your party wall surveys. Even though they have not looked in detail at any plans.

This is scare-mongering and is basically a confidence trick, as most work involving domestic architecture - extensions, lofts etc - does not adversely affect the Party Wall and can be dealt with by the Architect or Builders doing the work.

It is an attempt to legalise a normal building situation, and costs both the neighbouring owners and the initiator of works a lot of money and stress for surveys etc, all of which goes to the importuning Party Wall surveyors.

We as builders have complained to RICS (Surveyors' body in UK) about this matter as all planning jobs now cause many of these letters to be sent to any neighbours by the Party Wall surveyors/salespeople.

This is bad as it creates discord (and litigation if the surveyors they get their way) between neighbours. And any claims are covered anyway - the Party Wall Act only formalises things.

Obviously some jobs will need Party Wall surveyors - for instance, new buildings that go against an adjoining building or land, or large works - and that is what the legislation is for.

Here we will go through the main points of Party Wall procedure.

Party Wall Act 1996 in force 1997

  1. Work to existing party walls
  2. New building astride or up to boundary line
  3. Excavations and foundations within 3 or 6 metres of line and to a greater depth

Serving Notices

A Notice should be served on neigbouring properties by the works architects for excavation or even steels in lofts.

These are needed even if works have gone through Planning procedures.

What to do if you receive a Party Wall Notice

  1. Accept - let them carry on with the works
  2. Dissent - Appoint your own Party Wall Surveyor. Then the builders have to also appoint a Party Wall surveyor, and these two will communicate and draw up an aggreement. This is why people are sent the importuning letters on works listed, to create a lot of work.
  3. Dissent and appoint an Agreed Surveyor. One person will draw up the Award.

The sales letters you get from Party Wall surveyors usually try to get a conflict going, advising of huge losses possible if you don't, etc, so they will advise option 2/ Appoint your own Party Wall Surveyor, ie, them.

Party Wall Surveyors will examine the plans, check engineer's calculations and make an initial assessment of impact, if any of works.

Party Wall Award

Legal document that safeguards the rights of Adjoining Owners for

  1. Ensure reasonable measures are taken to protect their property from damage
  2. Not to suffer unnecessary inconvenience
  3. Compensation for loss or dammaage caused by works

Damage to Neighbouring Property

An Award records the start condition of the relevant parts of the building, so any repairs can be accurately assessed after works.

Access Rights

The Act allows access to neighbouring property (usually gardens etc) for any facilitiating works, such as sewer access, drains, etc.

Excavations and foundations

This is usually thought of as a risk due to digging but these days is less troublesome. Often the new foundations are much stronger than the neighbouring ones and serve to strengthen rather than weaken. The Award should explain what is required for any protection.

Costs and expenses

Usually the Builder or Architects pays for this but sometimes costs are shared.

What if works are about to start and I have not received a Notice?

Speak to then directly and see what is going on. Make sure they know about the Party Wall Act and see if they have a surveyor.

Any dispute will arise but an Award will simplify matters - if it is needed in the first place.

Since Builders and architects have professional indemnity, any claims can take place without an Award in place, it can be an expensive measure for small ie domestic works.

The Party Wall Act

This has 22 sections and is very detailed, which is why leagal advice is needed - if you choose to use it at all.

See UK's RICS website.