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A practical guide to party walls

22 Oct 2015

This note is a practical guide to the law relating to party walls. It also explains the consequences of failing to follow the correct procedures.

What is a party wall?

A party wall is a wall that stands on a boundary between a building owner’s land and the land of an adjoining owner. As well as walls that divide buildings, party structures can also include garden walls and horizontal floors or ceilings between flats.

Giving notice of works to party walls

The building owner must give notice to all adjoining owners of any planned works. The notice requirements will depend on the type of work that is being done. Adjoining owners may serve counter-notices in some situations.

Procedure for carrying out works

The procedure is set out in the table below.

  Existing walls New walls Excavation
Notice required 2 months 1 month 1 month
Counter-notice Within 1 month N/A Within 14 days
Content of counter-notice Adjoining owner requires additional works N/A Adjoining owner requires foundations strengthened
If in agreement Carry out works Build wall on boundary Begin excavation
If in dispute Refer to surveyors Build the wall on the building owner’s land or refer to surveyors Refer to surveyors
Security for expenses Adjoining owner must serve notice on the building owner if security is required
Appoint party wall surveyors Parties elect to appoint an agreed party wall surveyor (or separate surveyors who then agree on the appointment of a third surveyor)
A party wall award provides: The right to execute works; details of the timing and manner of the works; who is liable for the costs and expenses of the award and in what proportion; and the amount of any security for expenses
Appeal Either party may appeal to the court within 14 days of the service of the award
Written consent Written consent is always needed for sinking special foundations on the adjoining owner’s land
Right of entry 14 days’ notice should be given by the building owner to the adjoining owner (except in emergencies)
Execution of the works Start works within 12 months of the date of the notice
Serve an account The building owner must serve an account within 2 months of the completion of the works if the adjoining owner is partially liable for the expenses
Payments The property remains vested in the building owner until the adjoining owner settles its share of the expenses

 Consequences of failing to follow the correct procedures

Failure to serve a notice

A building owner will be in breach of the statutory procedure if they fail to serve a notice at all; fail to serve the correct notice, or serve a notice on the wrong recipient.

In most cases a failure to serve notice can be resolved by the building owner stopping the work and following the correct procedures. However, if a building owner persistently refuses to follow the correct procedure the adjoining owner may seek an injunction prohibiting them from continuing the work. In some instances an injunction will not be appropriate (for example, where the building owner’s works have been completed). The adjoining owner may then bring court proceedings against the building owner and seek compensation.

Failure to appoint a surveyor

If one party will not consent to the appointment of an agreed party wall surveyor and fails to appoint a surveyor of their own then the other party can make an appointment on their behalf.

Refusal to give access

If a person is entitled to carry out work and has given 14 days’ notice of proposed entry it is an offence for an adjoining owner to refuse access to land or to obstruct a person from carrying out work. A building owner and his agents may (with police assistance) break open any fences or doors that prevent the building owner from exercising his right of access to adjoining land to carry out works.

Building owner goes beyond the remit of the party wall surveyor’s decision

If a building owner goes beyond the remit of the party wall surveyor’s decision and causes loss or damage by carrying out works they may be sued for damages.

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