You have your scheme, you get your planning permission. You specify your structure, stairs, means of escape, spread of flame, conservation of heat and power. You get your building regulations plans approval. Are you ready to go? Not quite… If you have neighbours adjoining your proposal there’s a pretty good chance that you are going to need a party wall agreement. That’s what the law says. The Party Wall (etc) Act may not be that exciting but it serves a very noble purpose – it sets out a (sort of) clear procedure that can prevent and remedy neighbour disputes when one of you has construction work done to form a new wall on a boundary, or to work on an existing wall that separates two structures. Here’s how it works. You want an extension that goes up to or even a bit over the boundary, or you need to put a steel into the party wall to make your loft room roof, whatever makes the music. You give a notice letter to your neighbour, ideally along with some home made cake and a cup of tea, which tells them about the work. They give you a letter which consents to the work described. There you have it, you have a party wall agreement.
Now I don’t want to tell you everything about the Act, or the relevant case law, but there are a couple of headline points that you need to know. You can read the Act here. There’s also this handy guide – which for some reason is longer than the Act and harder to understand. Both documents are very useful – they define the party wall, say what your rights to use are, describe the notices and set out procedures for resolving disputes. You can also read the official guidance here. Many have tried and failed to explain the Act in simple terms – I will just give you a couple of pointers based on my experience. Buyer beware! If you are in any doubt, go to a professional. Architecture students, buy Speaight and Stone.
Why, oh why, do I have to serve a Notice?
It’s not about the Notice, it’s about the Agreement. It’s your neighbour’s wall too (or their boundary) and if you don’t have an Agreement they can take you to court and
get the judge to tell you to take down that new extension you just paid for. Not the outcome we wanted.
Talk to your neighbour
Find out early doors if they are going to be okay with your scheme. If they hate it, or you can’t find them, get a party wall surveyor in to do everything. Look for RICS or a member of the Pyramus & Thisbe Club (I know!). The Act gives you wide powers and procedures to get your work done and muscle through a dispute but any technicality can set you back. For example, if the Notice is not served correctly, it can be rendered invalid. So don’t go in unprepared if your neighbour is hostile. If your neighbour lovingly embraces your proposal, you can do it yourself and save some money.
There are three kinds of notice under the Act. If you are building a new wall on or up to the boundary you need a notice under section 1 (Line of Junction Notice). If you are asking to do work to an existing Party Wall or floor you need a notice under section 2 (Party Wall or Party Structure Notice). If you are digging a hole for foundations you will very likely need a notice under section 6 (Foundation Notice). This is also known as a 3 metre or 6 metre notice.
So for some common examples, a new loft room in a terraced property may need a Party Wall notice to let a new steel into the existing Party Wall, or take out a chimney breast. If you have a new extension up to or on to the boundary, you may need a Line of Junction Notice and Foundation Notice especially if your neighbour’s building is old, in which case your new foundations will likely be lower than the old foundations.
I think that’s my taxi outside
Sorry if today’s post was not as exciting as the invitation suggested, but actually all I want you to take away in your party bag is that you can’t just start on site without an agreement from your neighbours if you have a party wall / new wall on the boundary. See you next time and thank you for a wonderful evening!