Making big changes to your home can be a noisy, disruptive experience, but at least you get to enjoy the results. Your neighbours must endure many of the same inconveniences without the pay-off, which is why it’s essential to maintain good relations with them throughout the process. Nowhere is this more critical than when it comes to securing a party wall agreement.
What is it?
If you’re working on a wall that divides your property from any of your neighbours’ properties, or building a new wall on or near your property’s boundaries, you may need to serve your neighbour/s with a party wall notice. Governed by the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, it’s your legal obligation to give your neighbours notice of the works you plan to carry out, at least two months in advance. After notice is served, your neighbours can agree to the works, agree to the appointment of one surveyor or appoint a surveyor of their choice to prepare a party wall agreement between you and your neighbours.
How important is it?
Firstly, it’s the law. Secondly, without a party wall agreement in place, you could cause serious delays to your build (your neighbours can go to a county court for an injunction to prevent you from continuing work) and a dent in your finances. If you’ve not obtained an agreement and you damage a neighbour’s property, compensation will be decided in court as opposed to by a surveyor. You could end up with a hefty legal bill, as well as possibly having to compensate your neighbours for stress, rather than just the damage caused.
Should I let my neighbours know first?
Yes. Before you serve notice, it’s ideal if you can discuss your planned works fully with all the adjoining owners. That way you can iron out any snags and put your neighbours’ minds at ease. This neighbourly approach goes a long way and means it’s less likely they’ll dissent the proposed works, saving you time and money.
How do I serve notice?
While you can hire a surveyor or other professional to do this for you, it’s simple enough to do yourself. There are example letters available online in the government’s Party Wall etc. Act explanatory booklet. Fill everything in carefully so the notice is valid and include all necessary information and plans. Make sure you serve it to all the affected owners, including freeholders and leaseholders.
What happens next?
Your neighbours have 14 days to respond in writing to the notice. If they agree, you can go ahead with the work immediately. If they fail to respond you are considered to be in dispute. Your neighbours are given a further 10 days to appoint a surveyor and if they fail to respond again you can appoint a surveyor on their behalf, and that’s when things get a bit more complicated, and costly.
What could go wrong?
Your neighbours might fail to respond or dissent to the works, meaning the matter becomes a dispute. You will both then need to appoint a surveyor. As you accrue the surveyors’ costs, it’s ideal if you can agree on the same one. The surveyor/s will then draw up a party wall award to determine the rules the builders must follow while carrying out the work, as well as reviewing your neighbour’s property post-build to decide if any damage has occurred. And if it has, then you have a legal obligation to make good the damage or compensate the neighbours for it.