How to Resolve a Party Wall Dispute
What is a Party Wall?
A Party Wall typically refers to a wall which runs along or at the boundary of two neighbouring properties and forms part of a building. However, it will also include garden walls built on or at the boundary line.
What is a Party Wall Act Notice?
A Party Wall Notice is a legal notification sent from a building owner to inform the owners of their adjoining property of any major intended building work impacting the Party Wall. It covers any work specified within sections 1, 2 and 6 of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (PWA), this includes:
- a new building or wall on the boundary line;
- making an existing Party Wall taller, shorter or deeper;
- cutting into a Party Wall;
- knocking down and rebuilding a Party Wall; and
- digging and excavating ground within six metres from any part of a building or structure on neighbouring land.
If you are only planning on making minor changes to the wall such as plastering, rewiring or securing furniture, then you do not need to serve any Notice.
If you are the Building Owner
If you are planning to commence building work relating to a Party Wall, we suggest you familiarise yourself with the PWA. If your planned work is included in the Act, you are required to serve Notice(s). If you are in any doubt, we can help determine if your work is covered under the Act.
We often find party wall disputes occur due to a lack of communication between neighbours and confusion over what you are planning or entitled to do. We therefore always advise that you discuss in advance any planned building work with your neighbour. You might find you are able to improve your build as a result. For example, they may agree for you to build your wall on the boundary line rather than up to it. This will increase the size of your extension and avoid maintenance, access and damp problems caused by very narrow gaps between neighbouring properties.
Once you have discussed your plans with your neighbours, you will need to serve the Notice(s). You need to do this at least two months before the work is planned to commence and it will remain valid for up to one year. We would advise appointing a surveyor to assist you with this process to make sure that your application is fully compliant with the act.
If you are the Adjoining Owner
If you have been served a Party Wall notice by your neighbours, you have two options. If you believe you are happy with the plans you can simply consent. You will have fourteen days to respond in writing to do this. It is important to remember that should you consent; you will still be protected under the Act. For instance, there are provisions in the act to make sure that any damage caused to your wall is repaired by the building owner regardless of the status of your consent.
Should you have any concerns at all about the implications of the works then you can choose to dispute them. The concern could be to prevent potential damage to your property caused by the building work itself. Or, you might be worried about a practical implication of the work, including the safety and control of a pet if a fence is being removed in the process.
If you are unsure of the implications of consenting, we can help you to understand your position.
What is a Party Wall Act Award?
A dispute resolution process begins if no agreement can be reached. This will require the appointment of a surveyor. This could be either a joint surveyor instructed on behalf of both parties or alternatively, each party may appoint an individual surveyor. Either way, the surveyor(s) will work to resolve the concerns on both sides to ultimately draw up a Party Wall Award. This is a legal document outlining what can happen, under which restrictions and which party is responsible for paying each cost.
Once the Award is made, it is essential that a Schedule of Conditions of the adjoining owner’s property is obtained before work commences. This is a photographic record and evidence of the condition of the adjoining owner’s property.
Is the Party Wall Act a legal requirement?
The PWA process is a legal requirement. However, the Court of Appeal has recently confirmed in the case Power & Kyson v Shah  EWCA Civ 239, that the dispute resolution process does not apply when a building owner fails to issue a notice under the Act. Despite this ruling should you start your project without a Party Wall Act notice and your works are notifiable, your neighbours can obtain an interim High Court Injunction, while you complete the necessary notices. This can cause incredibly costly delays and legal costs.
Additionally, a building owner conducting work without a valid Party Wall Notice could be committing a trespass and/or a nuisance. Should this be the case, remedies could be payable to the adjoining owner. Defending these claims is likely to be more costly and time-consuming than issuing the notice and following this process from the outset.
How can we help?
There are a number of ways we can assist in all parts of the process relating to the PWA.
If you are the building owner and your neighbour has accused you of breaching an agreement, concerning your respective properties, we can work with you to understand and resolve the dispute. We can also help defend your party wall rights. We will work to settle any disputes efficiently, so you can carry on with your works as quickly as possible.
If you are an adjoining owner and your neighbour has served you with a Party Wall notice and you are not sure what you should do, we can advise on how you can proceed and how you might be protected. Alternatively, if your neighbour has commenced work which you believe to be affecting a Party Wall and they have not served you notice, we can help you to obtain an injunction to prevent them conducting any further works, while we help to resolve the dispute.
We will be happy to discuss any concerns relating to the PWA on a no cost no obligation 20-minute video call with one of our solicitors in our Haywards Heath office. To book this call please send an initial email to email@example.com (with a brief description of the matter) and one of our team will liaise with you to fix a time to speak to an appropriate specialist and send you a calendar invite accordingly.
This article is intended for general information only, applies to the law at the time of publication, is not specific to the facts of your case and is not intended to be a replacement for legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before relying on any of the information given. © Jonathan Lea Limited 2023.