What is the Party Wall Act?
The Party Wall Act was introduced to prevent building work undertaken by one neighbour undermining the structural integrity of shared walls or neighbouring properties; it also serves to avert and resolve potential neighbourly disputes which might arise. The Act came into force on 1st July 1997 in England and Wales, with Scotland and Northern Ireland exempt. Although it is not part of their remit, a Building Control officer may offer some advice.
Will it affect my plans to renovate?
If you live in a semi, terrace, flat, or your detached home is sited within close proximity to neighbouring houses, it might. The key things to remember are which walls constitute as ‘party walls’ and the type of work subject to the Act. Floors and ceilings between flats, shared boundary walls, such as those between semis and terraced homes, and any other walls which touch the boundary are covered.
Carrying out superficial tasks such as fitting shelves, replastering, wallpapering and electrical rewiring are not included, but more extensive work – the type typically undertaken by renovators and extenders – is. Converting a loft which includes cutting into boundary walls to support new beams, underpinning, inserting a damp-proof course, increasing the thickness, or demolishing and rebuilding a party wall, as well as extending above a storey which lies on the boundary, are all such tasks.
Building a new wall for an extension, for example, up to or on the boundary, is also included, in addition to excavation work for new foundations, subject to condition (SEE ABOVE). You’ll need to assure your neighbour of the safeguards in place to protect their foundations. If you plan to undertake any work covered by the Act, then you’ll also have to give ‘Notice’ of the commencement of work to your neighbour.
You must give Notice under the Party Wall Act if you’re excavating for new foundations deeper than the foundations of your neighbours’ home, within three metres of the boundary, or within six metres if a 45° will be formed between the bottom of your new foundations and those belonging to your neighbour.
My renovation falls under the act – how do I give ‘Notice’?
Notice is given by way of a letter setting out your intentions, to any affected neighbour(s). A sample letter is included within The Party Wall Act explanatory booklet (download or order your copy at communities.gov.uk) — it should be the basis on which you prepare your Notice. Remember to include all the key information – including the date the Notice is served, the date work will commence, all parties’ names and addresses and a description of the proposed work – otherwise your Notice will be invalid. Once complete, present this, together with a copy of the Act and explanatory booklet, to your neighbour two months prior to starting.
Your neighbour will then have 14 days in which to provide written approval or rejection — let them know a template is available for both in the explanatory booklet. If they provide approval, your Notice will be valid for a year to complete work. If, however, they reject or do not respond within 14 days, then you’re deemed to be in dispute.
This all sounds a bit formal; do I really need a Notice?
If things turn sour with your neighbour and they suspect that the work being carried out will adversely affect their home, they can seek a court injunction to stop you from continuing. An approved Notice is the only way to prevent this.
What if the neighbours object?
Talk to your neighbours and explain your plans in detail to reach an agreement. If approval is impossible, then you will have to assign a surveyor – jointly or individually – to prepare a Party Wall Award. This ‘Award’ will determine the work that can be carried out, how and when, measures for preventing damage as well as recording the current conditions of both properties.