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A Quick Guide To Party Wall Disputes

With just over 66 million souls populating a land mass 7.1 times smaller than California (population around 40 million), UK detached homes are expensive, especially in the south of the country.  

Therefore, many people live in terraced and semi-detached properties.  The dividing wall/s and other boundaries, e.g. fences between such properties is called a ’party wall’.  Party walls can lead to stressful and expensive property litigation if a neighbour dispute over building works develops.

28 October 2020
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The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (PWA 1996) provides a statutory framework to enable neighbours who share a boundary to carry out building works.   Under the PWA 1996, notice must be provided to all owners of adjoining properties of any planned works.  The type of notice required depends on the type of works planned.

The requirement to give notice

If you plan to do works on an existing party wall, you must provide two months’ notice to all adjoining owners.  This will not be required if you obtain written consent from the other owners before commencing the work.  

When it comes to building a new party wall or fence, regardless of whether it is on your land or the boundary, one months’ notice must be given.  Written consent from adjoining owners will not negate the duty to provide notice.  

If you plan to build or excavate within three or six metres of an adjoining party wall, one months’ notice must be provided.  Prior written consent from adjoining owners does not override this statutory duty.

Responses to a PWA 1996 notice 

If the respondents are happy for your works to proceed, they must communicate this to you in writing within 14 days.  If they wish to serve a counter-notice regarding works on an existing party wall, they have one month from the date of receipt of your notice to do so.

A counter notice may set out features the adjoining owner/s requires you to incorporate into any planned works, for example, the inclusion of chimney breasts, piers, and any other structures the adjoining owner might reasonably require.  Included in the counter notice may be plans and/or particulars of the work requested.

Under the PWA 1996, you should reply to the counter notice, stating your consent, within 14 days and comply with the stipulations of the counter notice unless it would be ‘injurious’ to you or cause unnecessary inconvenience or delays to the works.

What if consent to the notice or counter notice is denied or no reply is forthcoming?

If consent to your notice is refused by one or more adjoining property owners or you refuse to consent to a counter notice a dispute will develop if the planned works are to an existing party wall,  involve constructing a new wall across a boundary, or excavations.  In the case of a new party wall or fence, refused consent means you will need to build the structure entirely on your own land.

A lack of response to the notice or counter notice will result in the same conclusions as above.

Dispute resolution under the PWA 1996

The PWA 1996, section 10, sets out a framework for resolving party wall disputes.  There are two stages to resolving a dispute:

a)    The appointment of party wall surveyors, and
b)    The making of an award.

You and your neighbour/s can agree to jointly appoint a party wall surveyor or each person can choose their own surveyor who will in turn select an independent surveyor to which they can refer disputes.

The party wall surveyor's jurisdiction is limited to deciding on the parties' dispute about what works the building owner is permitted to carry out and awarding compensation and costs (as appropriate) to deal with losses and inconvenience caused by those works. They cannot act on other property litigation disputes such as where the boundary lines lie.

The surveyor’s decision (known as an award) will clarify certain matters, for example, the extent of the works to be carried out, when and how the works should be done, the erection of scaffolding, and access rights to the property.  Although not required by the PWA 1996, the surveyor will also report on the condition of the adjoining owner’s property before works commence, supporting comments with photographs.  This will ensure a record exists which can be relied on if damage occurs whilst the works are being carried out.

An award is binding and final; however, an appeal can be made to the County Court.  Notice of an appeal must be made within 14 days of receiving the award.

Legal help in property litigation matters

Property litigation is something to be avoided.  An experienced Solicitor will do everything possible to resolve disputes through alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation, ensuring your best interests are protected.  

Guillaumes LLP Solicitors is a full-service law firm based in Weybridge, Surrey.  We have a highly experienced property litigation team who can assist you on party wall disputes.  To make an appointment, please call us on 01932 840 111.