Love thy neighbour: Party Wall Act 1996

Neighbour relations are important, a bad rapport can often lead to disputes and claims. And one major cause for tension between neighbours is carrying out unspecified works! Here we’ll discuss the who, what, why, when’s of the Party Wall Act 1996.

The Party Wall Act came into force in 1997 and currently only applies to England and Wales. The act was introduced to provide a framework for preventing/resolving disputes in relation to party walls, structures, boundary walls and excavations near neighbouring buildings.

Guidlines

Official government guidelines state that notice should be served at least two months before the notifiable works begin, and at least one month before the notifiable excavation works begin.

‘There is “realistic potential” for damage when undertaking party wall works. So failure to comply with the act could result in your neighbour taking you to court and obtaining –at your expense– an injunction to prevent you from continuing with the work.’

Case Study-Lea Valley Developments Ltd v Mr Thomas Derbyshire

The dispute between Lea Valley and Mr Derbyshire related to the amount of compensation payable to Mr Derbyshire in circumstances where the works carried out by Lea Valley (including digging foundations) caused so much damage to Mr Derbyshire’s property that the proper economic solution was for it to be demolished and rebuilt, rather than just repaired.

This case was so precarious that it is currently being disputed in the High Court. This highlights firstly how things can quickly turn ugly if the necessary parties are not made aware of the full extent of the works and secondly how potentially damaging works can be.

Who, what, why, when?

Who?
The Act stipulates that any person/persons (Landlord, Tenant, Investor, Developer) planning to change, improve or demolish a structure that directly adjoins or is within six metres of a neighbouring structure, is required to attain approval from the effected parties. If a claim or dispute does occur then the case will typically be assessed by a qualified Surveyor or a Party Wall expert, who can largely dictate the legal outcome.

What?
As mentioned in the latter, the Act determines that a Party Wall is a structure or wall common to two buildings or rooms. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the wall/structure has to be directly connected/adjoining. A wall/structure that is a maximum of 6 metres away from another building or room constitutes as a Party Wall. This is called the ‘Boundary Line’.

Why?
The Act was implemented as a regulatory standard that provided a more tangible set of guidelines for people and experts to follow. A lot of the time people can neglect the full extent of disturbance carrying out works on a Party Wall can have on a neighbouring property and occupier. Lack of access, noise disturbance, structural damage etc. can all be results of carrying out works to a Party Wall.

If a neighbouring property is damaged, then the Party Wall Act will act as a guideline for an expert/surveyor to consider and determine if there is a viable claim and to what extent the effected person can claim. So, careful consideration and attaining the correct approval is key to limit the amount of liability you may have!

When?
The Act stipulates that a notice of the full scope of works and start date should be served at least 2 months before the notifiable works begin and 1 month before the notifiable excavation works begin. If you correctly serve notice on your neighbours and damage occurs, “any disputes over that damage will be dealt with by surveyors rather than at common law,”.

Conclusions

Consideration is key! Make sure that you consider every potential factor of your project and how it could effect neighbouring properties. And consult a specialist surveyor who can asses the potential risks and breaches of the Act and work towards creating a constructive dialogue between both parties.