Owners planning to extend of alter their property are often confused about what works are covered by the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. The ‘etc.’ in the title is a clue that it is more than just work directly affecting walls that divide properties and indeed the scope of the Act goes considerably wider than that.
There are in fact 3 distinct types of work falling within the Act and each has its own type of notice:
Party Structure Works
A ‘party structure’ will generally be either an internal wall or a shared garden wall but it can also be a floor structure dividing flats or offices of different owners within a building.
Section 2 of the Act sets out various works to a party structure that must be notified to the adjoining owner including cutting in (e.g. to insert beams), raising, underpinning, cutting away from (e.g. removing a chimney breast) and exposing the structure to the elements.
The Act does not differentiate between drilling in to a wall to insert a rawl plug and cutting in to insert a steel beam but it is generally accepted that some works are too minor to warrant a notice being served.
The statutory notice period is 2 months but if an adjoining owner does not respond to the notice there is a ‘deemed dissent’ after 14 days. Where notices are dissented to surveyors, or an Agreed Surveyor, must be appointed and a party wall award agreed prior to the works commencing.
The type of work that catches many owners out is excavation close to shared or adjoining structures.
Section 6 of the Act requires notice to be served where an owner is excavating within 3.00m of shared or adjoining structure and to a greater depth than the foundations to that structure. The distance is extended to 6.00m for particularly deep excavation such as piled foundations.
The notice period is shorter than for party structure works at just 1 month but there is again a deemed dissent after 14 days.
Statutory notice periods are not particularly relevant as if an adjoining owner consents they will normally be willing to waive the notice period and if they dissent and appoint a surveyor they should be agreeable to waiving the remainder of the notice period once the award is agreed.
New Walls at the Boundary
The Act also covers the construction of new walls either up to or astride the boundary. A wall built astride the boundary will be a party wall and requires the adjoining owner’s express consent.
New walls at the boundary are covered by Section 1 of the Act and the notice period is 1 month. Unlike other the other 2 types of notice there is not a deemed dissent after 14 days so if there has been no response by the end of the notice period works can commence.
Notice only need be served when the new wall is touching the boundary so it could be built back slightly to avoid the requirement – while that may avoid the possibility of surveyors’ fees the downside is that the right of access provided for works covered by the Act could not be invoked.
The chances of a notice being consented to are much improved where it is served in good time and accompanied by clear plans showing the detail and scope of the works. Adjoining owners are also more likely to consent if they feel they are being kept informed so it’s well worth calling to see them (perhaps with a box of chocolates!) and talking them through the proposals before the formal notice is served.
Article written by Justin Burns BSc (Hons) MRICS FFPWS of Peter Barry Party Wall Surveyors