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Caroline Knowles-Ley

Associate - Brighton & Hove

The Party Wall Act: What do I need to know?

It is important to first consider whether, and how, the Party Wall etc Act 1996 (“the Act”) applies to you. You first need to determine if you have a party wall, and if you do, what considerations need to be accounted for when starting work on a party wall.

What is a “party wall”?

A wall is a “party wall” if it stands astride the boundary of land belonging to two (or more) different owners, such as:-

  • it is part of one building;
  • or it separates two (or more) buildings;
  • or it consists of a “party fence wall”.

A wall is a “party fence wall” if it is not part of a building, and stands astride the boundary line between lands of different owners and is used to separate those lands (for example a masonry garden wall). This does not include such things as wooden fences or hedges.

A wall is also a “party wall” if it stands wholly on one owner’s land, but is used by two (or more) owners to separate their buildings.  For example, where one person has built the wall in the first place, and another has built their building up against it without constructing their own wall.  Only the part of the wall that does the separating is “party” – sections on either side or above are not “party”.

The Act also uses the expression “party structure”. This is a wider term, which can be a wall or floor partition or other structure separating buildings or parts of buildings approached by separate staircases or entrances such as with flats.

What does The Party Wall Act do?

The Act may affect someone who either wishes to carry out work covered by the Act (the “Building Owner”) or receives notification under the Act of proposed adjacent work (the “Adjoining Owner”).

Under the Act, the word “owner” includes the person(s), company or other body:

  • holding the freehold title;
  • holding a leasehold title for a period exceeding one year;
  • under contract to purchase such a freehold or leasehold title;
  • entitled to receive rents from the property.

Work falls into three categories and the Act covers:

  • Building a free-standing wall or a wall of a building up to or astride the boundary with a neighbouring property;
  • work on an existing party wall or party structure or building against such a party wall or party structure; and
  • excavating near a neighbouring building – within 3 or 6 metres of a neighbouring building or structure depending on the depth of the hole or proposed foundations.

If the work falls into one of the above categories you must notify all Adjoining Owners.

While the Act contains no enforcement procedures for failure to serve a notice to start work on the party wall, if you start work without having first given notice in the proper way, adjoining owners can seek to stop your work through a court injunction or seek other legal redress.

An adjoining owner cannot stop someone from exercising the rights given to them by the Act, but may be able to influence how and at what times the work is done.

The Building Owner must provide temporary protection for adjacent buildings and property where necessary. The Building Owner is responsible for making good any damage caused by the works or must make payment in lieu of making good if the Adjoining Owner requests it.

Where party walls and structures are modified, repaired, or demolished and rebuilt section 11(4) and (5) of the Act provides that the cost of the work shall be shared where the work is necessary on account of defect or want of repair, in proportion to the use each party makes of the structure or wall and the responsibility of each for the defect or want of repair concerned.  Where use is made of party walls previously built at the cost of the Adjoining Owner, the Act makes provision for a fair payment to be made to the Adjoining Owner.

Some works on a party wall may be so minor that service of notice under the Act would be generally regarded as not necessary.  This includes things like:-

  • drilling into a party wall to fix plugs and screws for ordinary wall units or shelving;
  • cutting into a party wall to add or replace recessed electric wiring and sockets;
  • removing old plaster and re-plastering.

Consider whether your planned work might have any possible consequences for the structural strength and support functions of the party wall as a whole, or cause damage to the Adjoining Owner’s side of the wall. If in any doubt you should enlist the help of a qualified building surveyor.

In the recent case of Power v Shah, which involved an award that had been imposed on a Building Owner by the Adjoining Owner in circumstances where the Building Owner had not served any notice under the Act or engaged in the dispute resolution process., the Court of Appeal held that an Adjoining Owner was unable to unilaterally invoke the Act in this way and that the only trigger to be able to use the Act was by the service of a notice by the Building Owner on the Adjoining Owner. The case makes it clear that it is not a remedy available to a disgruntled Adjoining Owner when the Building Owner has not invoked the Act.

In those circumstances, if an Adjoining Owner has a complaint about boundary works, they must seek an injunction at court.

Contact us

If you need any assistance with regards to a dispute over a party wall, contact Caroline Knowles-Ley, Associate in Rix & Kay’s Dispute Resolution team. e. carolineknowlesley@rixandkay.co.uk or t. 01273 766917