Period Properties and the Party Wall etc. Act 1996
By Justin Burns MRICS
When altering a period property owners have much to think about; planning permission, Building Regulation approval and possibly even listed building consent. One important piece of legislature that often gets overlooked amongst all this red tape is the Party Wall Act.
Since the Act came in to force on 1st July 1997 it has provided building owners with certain rights and obligations when planning work that falls within its scope. The type of work which is covered by the Act can be divided in to three categories. The first, and probably the one that many owners will be aware of, is work that affects a wall which is shared by two or more properties; known as a Party Structure.
Although the boundary line between two properties that share a wall will probably be close to the centre of that wall, for the purposes of the Act it is best to think of the whole party wall as being jointly owned. It is then easier to see why one owner cannot substantially alter the wall without making their adjoining owner aware of the change and offering them an independent means of ensuring that their property will not be compromised by the change.
The type of work which comes within this part of the legislation includes alterations such as the removal of chimney breasts and the insertion of beams or flashings but also more significant building work where party walls have to be raised, thickened or entirely rebuilt. Any work which falls within the scope of the Act requires the Building Owner to serve a Party Wall Notice and for this first category of work that will be a 'Party Structure Notice'. The notice period is two months.
What is less well known is that it is not just work to party walls that is covered by the Act but also excavation close to a neighbour's wall.
Where a Building Owner proposes to excavate within 3 metres of their neighbour's building and to a depth lower than the bottom of their foundations the work will be covered by the Act. As the foundations of period properties often consist of no more than some corbelled brick footings any new foundations will tend to be deeper and therefore notifiable under the Act. In this type of scenario it is a 'Notice of Adjacent Excavation' (sometimes known as a '3 Metre Notice') that should be served. The notice period is one month.
The final type of work with which the Act is concerned is the construction of walls astride or up to a boundary line. An Adjoining Owner can prevent a new wall being built astride the boundary, but not up to it, provided the appropriate notice is served. Foundations may be placed on the Adjoining Owner's side of the boundary so long as they are not reinforced. In this type of scenario it is a 'Line of Junction Notice' that should be served. The notice period is one month
Upon receipt of a Party Wall Notice the Adjoining Owner has three choices:
- To consent to the work - if they consent then no Party Wall Agreement is required and work can commence immediately
- To dissent and concur in the Building Owner's choice of surveyor as 'Agreed'
- To dissent and appoint a surveyor of their choice
If surveyors are appointed they will proceed with preparing the Party Wall Agreement known as an 'Award'.
The Award is a legal document and sets out the rights and responsibilities of the respective owners. Items covered will include details of the planned work, rights of access, contractor's insurance, working hours and the procedure to be followed if damage occurs. The surveyors should endeavour to minimise the risk of any damage occurring to the Adjoining Owner's property by requesting changes where appropriate
The Award will also contain a Schedule of Condition. This document records the condition of the Adjoining Owner's property prior to the work commencing. It may be referred to later in the process to ensure that any damage is properly attributed. Once the Award is complete it is signed by the surveyors, witnessed and served upon the two owners
Under all normal circumstances the surveyors' fees are paid by the Building Owner. Once the Agreement has been published the respective owners have 14 days to appeal if they feel that the document has been improperly drawn up.
About the Author:
Article by Justin Burns MRICS of Peter Barry Party Wall Surveyors
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