The Party Wall etc. Act 1996
The above Act came into force in September 1997 and not only supersedes the London Building Acts (Amendment) Act 1939 but extends the area that it covered to the whole of England and Wales.
It generally relates to works and alterations to party structures (e.g. a party wall/floor), the construction of walls near boundaries and excavations within six metres of a party structure or a neighbour's building.
Its purpose is to protect the interests of the Adjoining Owner (a neighbour) and to grant additional rights to the Building Owner (the person wishing to carry out building works) in order to assist him in developing his land to its full potential. An owner is essentially a person who owns a freehold interest or a leasehold interest that exceeds 12 months (a mortgagee, or a person who has an interest in a licence or a 'short hold tenancy agreement', does not qualify as an Owner).
The Act provides a mechanism for avoiding and resolving differences/disputes (that often arise) cost effectively and quickly. The procedure to be followed is:
- Building Owner (BO) serves Notice (one/two months) on his Adjoining Owner (AO).
- The AO responds and either consents to the works (normally where the works are relatively minor/very low risk) or dissents (this tends to be encouraged because the interests of both parties are better protected in these circumstances). It should be noted that silence is dissent.
- If the AO consents to the works, the matter is provisionally at an end but it is often prudent to prepare a schedule of condition nevertheless. The AO is always entitled to raise an issue for determination (e.g. in connection with damage) even if he has consented to a Notice.
- If the AO dissents, a difference is deemed to have arisen and both owners are obliged to each appoint a surveyor or concur in the appointment of an Agreed Surveyor. Experienced surveyors will often encourage the latter arrangement to mitigate the burden of the Act, especially in relation to small residential projects where the fees are often out of proportion with the cost of the exercisable rights.
- The Surveyors (who are under a duty to act impartially, no matter who appoints them) will then make a legally binding Award. The Award will include the rights and duties of the Building Owner. Surveyors are performing the task of a tribunal which is similar to the task undertaken by judges in a court of law; their appointment cannot be terminated by the Appointing Owners. The Party Wall Service is a specialist field of expertise and a Surveyor will require considerable experience and training to perform efficiently and fairly.
Neighbours should not feel the need not go to war over issues of this kind or take offence when a neighbour tries to protect his interests by dissenting to the proposals. Differences/disputes are honourable and normal; it is the Surveyors' responsibility to decide what is fair and reasonable; the Owners are consulted but do not get involved in the negotiations.
Appointing a surveyor to act on Party Wall matters
Party Wall disputes can be stressful and we would advise that you seek advice at the earliest possible date. Once the process has started there are strict time limits governing the procedure and you may end up feeling that you have no control, especially if it is your neighbour who has served notice of a proposal on you.
Telephone us for initial advice or even send an email.