Party Wall Act 1996 – What you need to know

When considering building a structure on or near the boundary between yours and a neighbour’s property it is important to consider the provisions of the Party Wall Act 1996 to ascertain what your obligations and rights are.

The Party Wall Act 1996 (hereinafter referred to as “the Act”) is designed to create a framework of rights and obligations within which works which affect neighbouring properties can be completed. The Act has provision for compensation for both parties.

Basic Provisions of the Party Wall Act

Where a landowner wishes to build a party wall or structure on the line of a junction (a boundary) then he is required to give one month’s notice to the neighbouring owner. If the neighbour gives his consent then the wall may be built along the line of the junction, i.e. so that it is half on the neighbour’s land. If no consent is given it must be built entirely on the builder’s land.

If the wall is built entirely on the builder’s land then provided one month’s notice is served and provide the wall is built within 12 months of the notice, the footings or foundations may encroach the soil of the neighbour provided this is “necessary”. It is uncertain as to how the word “necessary” might be interpreted by the courts. There may be a much more expensive option that does not require encroachment, such as pilings. Is the builder required to use any alternative regardless of expense? This may ultimately be decided on the facts of a particular case, such as the expense of the alternative option relative to the cost of the works in total and the impact traditional footings would have on the neighbour’s land.

Giving Consent and its Effect under Party Wall Act

If consent to works under the Act is to be given it must be in writing and within 14 days of service by the builder of the notice. If the neighbour does not respond to the notice then he is deemed to have dissented.

Where he consents, and where the structure is half on his land, he will be liable for a proportion of the costs which are equivalent to his usage, i.e. if both landowners benefit equally from a wall between the two properties the cost must be split 50/50 (though this can be overridden by agreement between the parties). If on the other hand the structure is, say, an extension used exclusively by the builder then the neighbour would not be responsible for any cost since he will not gain any benefit.

Security and Compensation

Where a notice has been served then, whether or not consent is given, the builder is required to compensate the neighbour for any damage caused to his land or to the buildings on it.

In the event of any dispute the parties must jointly appoint a surveyor to arbitrate. If they cannot agree on a choice of surveyor they must appoint one each and the two surveyors must then appoint a third, independent surveyor. The decision of the surveyors is final and binding.

Where the person doing the work has served a notice on the adjoining owner then the adjoining owner can require security to be paid in respect of any potential damage. If demanded it must be paid within one month or, if the security is disputed, within one month of determination by surveyors.

Excavation Works

Where a landowner wishes to carry out excavations on his land, for example for the purpose of laying foundations, and if the excavations are within 6 metres of a neighbour’s land, then he is required to serve either a 3 metre or 6 metre notice.

Three Metre Notice

If the excavation will be within three metres of any part of the neighbour’s building, and those excavations will go down lower than the bottom of the foundation of the neighbour’s existing property, then notice has to be given.

Six Metre Notice

If the proposed works are within six metres of a neighbouring building then more complex provisions apply. Basically, you ascertain how deep the proposed excavations will be; from the bottom of those excavations you then go down (at an angle of 45°) towards the neighbour’s property. If that 45° line meets any part of the neighbour’s foundations, then the landowner has to serve a notice on the neighbour. The end result is that it is possible for the landowner’s new excavations/foundations to be deeper than his neighbour’s foundations without the neighbour having to be given any party wall notice (unless, of course, the works will be within three metres of the neighbour’s building – in which case a three-metre notice will have to be served).

All Provisions of the Part Wall Act are Subject to Notice

It is important to remember that all of the provisions of the Party Wall Act 1996 are subject to notice actually being served. So if a landowner (rightly or wrongly) decides to carry out some work without serving notice then the adjoining landowner cannot object and none of the arbitration provisions be invoked. His only option therefore is the daunting prospect of going to court to seek an injunction. In this respect the Act appears rather one sided.

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