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The Party Wall Act: The good, the bad and the costly

If you live in a semi-detached or terraced property, you might have already heard some horror stories about the Party Wall Act and, as a result, have decided that you’re never going to carry out any substantial home improvement works on your home.

But it’s far from all doom and gloom. It can even be a pretty pain-free process that makes improving your home much easier than it was before. Here’s just about everything you need to know about this dreaded process…

 Credit: Ray Forster . CC License Credit: Ray Forster . CC License

Why does it even exist?

Many homeowners assume that getting a Party Wall Agreement is an extremely complicated, longwinded and costly process, but it really doesn’t need to be. The Party Wall Act was created to streamline the process of carrying out works on or near some kind of structure that you share ownership with, in order to keep things cordial between you and the other owners. It essentially enshrines your right to carry out all sorts of works on a shared wall.

Um, how do I know if I need one?

The legislation comes into play when you want to carry out substantial work on or near a wall or structure that you share ownership of with a neighbour. This could be the wall of a terraced house, a floor in a block of flats or even the fence that makes up the boundary between you and your neighbour’s garden.

It’s only a significant change that you need to worry about. Drilling a couple of holes into the wall or putting up a shelf isn’t enough to require you to give your neighbour notice. It’s when you start cutting into the wall or fitting steel beams for something like a loft conversion or extension that you need to look into permission.

It’s important that you speak to a surveyor before you start any work as they can advise you on whether or not the Party Wall Act will apply.

 Credit: Elliot Brown . CC License Credit: Elliot Brown . CC License

So, how does it work?

Once you know that your proposed home improvement will require you to give notice, you have to inform all joint owners of the wall or structure at least two months before you start work, or instruct your surveyor to do so.

Hopefully, your neighbour will simply give you their consent in writing, in which case happy days – you don’t even require a Party Wall Award! You can then commence the work immediately and get on with your life.

My neighbour’s ignoring me, what can I do?

Here’s where things start to get trickier. If your neighbour doesn’t reply, they are automatically deemed to have dissented to your notice. Before you can carry on with the dissent process, you must first serve them another notice which gives your neighbour ten days to find a surveyor. If they don’t respond to this, you can then appoint one on their behalf.

Uh oh, they’ve dissented what now?

Although this is the worst case scenario, it’s not that bad and it doesn’t mean you can’t carry out the home improvements.

What you do need to do is get either one or two surveyors to write up a Party Wall Award. This is the document that lays out all the rules that the builders must adhere to in order for the work to go ahead.

Ideally, your neighbour will agree to use the same surveyor as you. This surveyor must act impartially for both sides but since it’s your duty to pay the fees for all of the surveying, using one will halve your costs.

Once the surveyor (or surveyors) has been appointed, it’s largely down to them to work it all out for you. They will examine the party wall or structure from both sides – you and your neighbour’s – in order to record any pre-existing damage. This way, there can be no argument about whether your home improvement caused any damage or whether it was there before work started.

A Party Wall Award will also typically outline the rules affecting construction. This means things such as the hours and days of the week your builders will be allowed to operate on your neighbour’s side, when and under what circumstances workman may access their property and so on.

This sounds like SO much hassle! What if I just don’t give notice?

Whoa there, cowboy! While your neighbour dissenting from a Party Wall Notice may sound like a real fly in your ointment, that’s vastly more preferable to what could happen if you choose to ignore this piece of legislation.

Without any kind of award or agreement, your neighbour could take you to court and get an injunction forcing you to stop, or even making you return the property to its original state.

If any work causes damage to your neighbour’s property, without a Party Wall Award, you can also be forced to pay for non-quantifiable factors such as stress and inconvenience. And that’s before you pay for all their legal fees too!

Remember, it’s there to help you as well

At the end of the day, the Party Wall Act is there for your benefit too. While it might seem a little complicated, don’t let it get in the way of you turning your house into the home of your dreams. Speak to an expert and see how they can help you carry out these improvements, while adhering to the relevant legislation.

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