It is a common misconception that the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 only applies to works on a party wall. A large part of the Act deals with what are referred to as adjacent excavations which makes it particularly relevant to domestic extensions.
Excavations within three metres of a neighbour’s property and to a depth greater than the bottom of their foundations will come within the scope of the Act. As the depth of foundations have increased over the years, new building work close to an older property will almost always be notifiable.
If you plan to extend up or down as opposed to outwards and live in a semi-detached or terraced property the work is also likely to come within the scope of the Act. This is because converting a loft usually requires a new floor and that floor tends to be supported by a beam which is inserted into the party wall. Likewise a basement conversion will involve significant excavation work which if within three metres of an adjoining property will require notice under the Act.
So, what’s the first step if your proposed work falls within the scope of the Act?
The process starts with the serving of a Party Wall Notice . The notice will be different depending upon the type of work proposed. For adjacent excavations the notice is called (not unsurprisingly) a ‘Notice of Adjacent Excavation’ or sometimes a ‘Three Metre Notice’ and it should be served at least 2 months before the proposed start date.
Get a free, easy, no obligation, house extension quote today
Once the fourteen day period has expired your neighbour will be deemed to have dissented under the Act and both parties must appoint surveyors. Your neighbour can also appoint a surveyor within the fourteen days if they decide to dissent. The Act does allow for the appointment of a single ‘Agreed’ surveyor although this can only happen if your neighbour is agreeable.
The issue of surveyor’s fees is always a thorny subject as the party planning the work rarely remember to include them in their budget. Under all normal circumstance you will be responsible for the surveyor’s fees. The only exception to this is where an obstructive neighbour calls their surveyors out unnecessarily. As it is technically the surveyors that decide who pays the fees in such cases they are likely to ask your neighbour to pay for the wasted visit.
You will have no control over your neighbour’s choice of surveyor or indeed their requested fee and this can be another point of contention. There is a mechanism within the Act for challenging an unreasonable fee but as your neighbour’s surveyor is not required to state their fee until just before the award is published time constraints will often make this option undesirable. The Awards will not be published until the surveyor’s fee has been inserted.
The surveyors will prepare a legal document know as a Party Wall Award which sets out the duties and responsibilities of the respective owners. It will cover areas such as how damage is dealt with, working hours and contractor’s insurance. If you are unhappy with how the award is drawn up there is a 14 day appeal period although this is rarely observed by Building Owners keen to get on with their extension.
If you intend to cut in to the party wall you are required to serve a ‘Party Structure Notice’. The notice period is longer with this one at two months although with both notices the adjoining owner can give their written consent for the work to commence before the notice has run.
Upon receipt of notice your neighbour will have fourteen days in which to consent to the works. If they choose to consent the work can commence immediately and any damage that is caused will be dealt with outside of the Act. Many neighbours will be happy to consent, particularly for more minor works. To encourage this outcome you should let them know about your plans early and provide sufficient information such as drawings and engineer’s calculations if applicable.
Article by Justin Burns BSc MRICS of Peter Barry – A firm of Party Wall Surveyors in London.
Useful Links Provided by Justin Burns
1) A tool which produces party wall notices for homeowners: www.mypropertyguide.co.uk/partywall/notice/generator. The notices produced are in line with those suggested in the Government Explanatory Booklet. If the user follows the simple instructions they will generate a valid notice and acknowledgement which can be printed off and sent to their neighbour.
2) A website where we take homeowners party wall related queries and publish the answers on the site. Approximately 70 questions have been answered to date and published on www.partywalladvice.com.