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    The Party Wall etc. Act 1996

    Summary: The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 discussed in simple terms for anyone who thinks this act may affect them.

    The Party Wall Act is still all too often overlooked by Building Owners planning work which may affect their neighbour's property. As well as setting out the rights and obligations of the respective owners the Act lays down a set of procedures to be followed by the parties.

    The act

    Three categories of work come within the scope of the Act. The first, and the one which most people are aware of, covers work directly to a wall which is shared by two or more neighbouring properties. This will include the insertion beams and the removal of chimney breasts but also some smaller works such as cutting in flashings. Very minor works such as drilling small holes for fixings, inserting recessed cables or sockets and re-plastering are not covered.

    The second category of work relates to adjacent excavations. Depending upon the depth of the foundations this can extend to within six metres of a neighbour's property. Situations where this part of the Act may be invoked include excavations for foundations or basement conversions. This section is often overlooked by Building Owners

    The final category of work with which the Act is concerned is the construction of new walls astride or up to the boundary. Unless a neighbour gives their consent any new walls will have to be on the Building Owners side of the boundary although the foundations may project beyond the boundary if necessary; so long as they are not reinforced with steel.

    Before a Building Owner can commence work from any of the three categories a Party Wall Notice must be served. There are different notices depending upon the type of work and the notice periods vary between one and two months.

    Upon receipt of a notice the Adjoining Owner will be presented with three choices:

    1. To consent to the proposals - consent from the Adjoining Owner means that no award will be required and work can commence once the notice period has run; or earlier by agreement.
    2. To dissent and concur with the Building Owner in the appointment of a single surveyor as ‘Agreed'.
    3. To dissent and appoint a surveyor of their choice.

    If the Adjoining Owner chooses to consent they should do this within 14 days as after that point a ‘dispute' is deemed to have arisen under the Act and the two parties must appoint surveyors to resolve that dispute. The Act allows for the appointment of a single ‘Agreed' surveyor but only if the Adjoining Owner is happy with that arrangement.

    A common misconception is that a failure to reply by the Adjoining Owner means the Building Owner can start work at the end of the notice period. In fact, if the Adjoining Owner ignores the original notice the Building Owner must send a follow-up letter stating that they have a further ten days to appoint a surveyor. If the adjoining owner remains silent then the Building Owner must make an appointment on their behalf and should exercise a similar level of care as if he were making the appointment for himself.

    Once surveyors have been appointed they should start preparing the Party Wall Agreement (known as an ‘Award'). The Award is a legal document which sets out the rights and responsibilities of the respective owners. It will cover areas such as working hours, access arrangements and most importantly what should happen if damage occurs to the Adjoining Owner's property. The surveyors will also examine the proposals and if appropriate request changes to minimise the risk to the Adjoining Owner's property. Attached to the award will be a record of the condition of the Adjoining Owner's property known as a Schedule of Condition - this will be used to attribute blame in the event of damage occurring.

    When the surveyors have agreed all points the award is served upon the respective owners. There is a fourteen day appeal period during which the owners can lodge an appeal although work can commence immediately if the notice period has run.

    It is up to the surveyors to agree a reasonable fee for their input and who should pay it; in all normal circumstances that will be the owner undertaking the works. If the surveyors cannot agree then the matter is referred to a previously selected Third Surveyor who will have the final word.

    Justin Burns BSc MRICS MFPWS of Peter Barry Party Wall Surveyors

    Author: C J Mills Google+

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