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Spotlight on The Party Wall Act 1996

by Sarah Halloran

If you are thinking about doing some major renovations in your home that require a sledgehammer and a party wall, then it might be wise to know a little bit about the Party Wall Act and the legislation that determines what you can and can’t do within your home.

The Party Wall Act 1996 actually came into force in 1997 and comes into effect if somebody is planning on completing works on a relevant structure.  The term ‘party wall’ doesn’t always mean the wall between two semi-detached properties.  It covers the following instances:

A wall forming part of only one building but which is on the boundary line between two (or more) properties.

A wall which is common to two (or more) properties, this includes where someone built a wall and a neighbour subsequent built something butting up to it.

A garden wall, where the wall is astride the boundary line (or butts up against it) and is used to separate the properties but is not part of any building.

Floors and ceilings of flats etc.

Excavation near to a neighbouring property.

As with any DIY or major projects that might affect your neighbours, the polite thing to do is to let them know what you plan to do in the hope of reaching a friendly and amicable agreement.  Resorting to mentioning or enforcing the law should be the last thing on your mind in the early stages of planning.  Even if the work requires a notice to be served, it’s always best to informally discuss what you intend to do and to consider any comments or reservations your neighbours might have.  Friendly discussions at this stage might cause you to rethink your plans and amend them before serving a notice.

What party wall works don’t need permission?

There are many minor works that can be carried out to party walls without any notice being served or permission being granted.  Typically, this type of work includes:

Putting up shelves and wall units

Replastering works

Electrical rewiring works

What party wall works do need permission?

The Party Wall Act was enforced to ensure that all work that might have an effect on the structural support and strength of a party wall or that might cause damage to a neighbouring property, be notified.  A good rule of thumb if you are not sure what effect works might have is to seek advice from your local Building Control Office or a professional architect or surveyor.

You must serve a notice if you plan to carry out any of the following works:

To demolish and/or rebuild a party wall

To increase the height or thickness of a party wall

Insertion of a damp proof coarse (either chemical injection or a physical dpc)

Cutting into the party wall to take load bearing beams

Underpinning a party wall

Excavations within 3 metres of a neighbouring building where the excavation will go below the bottom of the foundations of the neighbouring building

Excavations within 6 metres of a neighbouring building where the excavation will go below a line drawn 45° downwards from the bottom of the foundations of the neighbouring building

Serving a Notice

Once you are sure that the work you intend to carry out falls under the Party Wall Act, it’s time to arrange a notice to be served.  This must be issued to all affected neighbouring parties.  The notice must include the following information:

The owners of the property undertaking the work

The address of the property

The names of all the owners of the adjoining property

A description of the proposed work, usually a single line giving a brief description

The proposed start date for the work

A clear statement that the notice is being served under The Party Wall etc Act 1996

The date the notice is being served

If the notice is for excavation work, then a drawing showing the position and depth of the excavation must be included

The process of serving a notice under the Party Wall Act is as follows:

The person intending to complete the works must serve a written notice on the neighbours or owners of the adjoining property no less than two month before the intended work is due to comments.  All neighbouring parties must be informed.  Each neighbouring party then has 14 days to respond in writing giving consent or showing dissent – if a party chooses to do nothing within 14 days then the notice will be automatically put into dispute.  No work may commence until all neighbouring parties have agreed in writing.

So, if you’re planning on knocking down a party wall or arranging underpinning, you’ll need to consider the Party Wall Act and everything it contains.  Being on side with your neighbours is going to help a great deal with the notice process and will hopefully help you to achieve project completion with no problems.

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