Party walls are a fact of life for many homeowners, especially those of us in flats or terraced or semi-detached houses.
But when it comes time to carry out major works involving a party wall -- which is typically a shared wall that divides the adjoining homes of two owners -- homeowners will find they’re governed by a very specific set of rules.
Whether it’s a straightforward rebuild/repair job or some other essential work, there are certain steps that homeowners need to go through:
This is a fairly complex legal area, so homeowners need to learn when a party wall agreement is required, what goes into such an agreement, and how to ensure they’re legally protected before starting any renovations.
Party wall agreements are legal agreements reached between you and your neighbour about building work that might affect your shared wall (or walls) or boundaries.
By definition, party walls also include party fence walls, which stand on the land of two owners but aren’t part of a building, and party structures, which include a floor partition between two flats.
Party wall agreements are intended to ensure that one neighbour doesn’t do any renovations that undermine the structural integrity of any shared walls or adjoining properties.
The hope is that your agreement will nip any potential disputes in the bud before they arise -- and that the work is carried out legally, fairly, and safely.
Your neighbours can’t prevent you from carrying out changes to your property that are consistent with the law. However, they can affect when and how the works are done.
You must tell your neighbour if your plans include:
In practice, common works that require a party wall agreement include:
On the other hand, you probably won’t need to go through the whole party wall agreement process when undertaking relatively minor works, such as:
Party wall agreements fall under the 1996 Party Wall Act, which is worth reading if you’re considering a big building work.
It’s a good idea to begin the process by talking with your neighbour before presenting them with written notice about your plans.
A friendly chat over a cup of tea could go a long way towards ensuring there are no misunderstandings, generating good will, and hopefully making sure the subsequent legal agreement is quickly signed.
Regardless, you need to serve written legal notice to the owners of the adjoining home with which you share a party wall (as well as any other buildings affected by your proposed works) at least two months prior to starting work.
This is called a party wall notice.
You don’t need planning permission to serve a party wall notice, though once you’ve served notice you have up to a year to begin work.
Your neighbour has 14 days to respond to the party wall notice. If they give their written consent, then you’re all set: you both sign on to your party wall agreement and you can begin your work.
If your neighbour doesn’t respond to your party wall notice or you’re otherwise unable to reach an agreement with them on your own, then under section 10 of the Party Wall Act you’ll both need to appoint party wall surveyors.
The surveyors will then prepare a party wall award, which outlines the right to begin the work, how and when it will be carried out, and any other related issues.
In your formal written party wall notice you should include, at least:
The government offers templates here that you can use to help write your own personalised party wall notice.
If the two properties in question are leaseholds, then you must also give notice to the building’s owners and the other tenants.
If your neighbour has agreed to your plan, you can write up and sign the party wall agreement.
Your party wall agreement should address three essential areas:
If you’re moving into a home whose previous owner had a party wall agreement with an adjoining neighbour, the 1996 Party Wall Act is not entirely clear on whether that agreement automatically transfers to you as the new homeowner.
If in doubt, however, the wisest course would be to consult with a solicitor.
If you’re just moving into a new home, then you’ll need to know whether you’ve got any shared walls, fences, or boundaries with neighbours. You should ask the estate agent whether your new neighbours have any imminent construction projects planned and if any of these projects involve your shared party walls.
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