Happy Birthday to The Party Wall etc Act 1996

The Party Wall etc Act 1996, which was introduced throughout England and Wales in July 1997, has recently turned 10 years old. Yet, there are many, including professional property developers, that know very little about the Act.
 
 

The Party Wall etc Act 1996, which was introduced throughout England and Wales in July 1997, has recently turned 10 years old. Yet, there are many, including professional property developers, that know very little about the Act.

 
Since July 1997, anyone in England or Wales intending to carry out work of the types defined by the Act must give notice of their intention to do so, either one or two months (dependant upon the type work) in advance of the proposed date to start the work. 
 
Even if Planning Permission, or Building Regulations Approval has been granted, a homeowner or developer still needs to comply with the requirements of the Act.
 
As the name suggests, the Act applies to work that is proposed to be undertaken to a shared wall separating two properties (also ceilings/floors between flats and apartments). The Act also applies to certain excavation works and building works on the boundary with another property.
 
The process starts when the person that intends to do the work (the Building Owner) issues a Party Wall Notice to the neighbour (the Adjoining Owner) that the work might affect.
 
The service of a Party Wall Notice is a statutory requirement and failure to serve notice may entitle an Adjoining Owner to apply to the Courts for an injunction to have the worked stopped until the requirements of the Act have been met.
 
Upon receipt of a Party Wall Notice from a Building Owner, the Adjoining Owner may either agree, or disagree to the work that is proposed. If the Adjoining Owner disagrees to the work that the Building Owner intends to carry out, both Owners are required to either agree on the appointment of a single Party Wall Surveyor (the agreed Surveyor) to independently regulate the “dispute” between the parties and produce a Party Wall Award, or each Owner can appoint their own Party Wall Surveyor. In each case, the Act states that the reasonable costs incurred in making the Award (the Surveyor/s fees), shall be paid by such of the parties as the agreed Surveyor or two Surveyors decide. The norm is for the agreed Surveyor or two Surveyors to decide that the Building Owner is to pay all the costs incurred in making the Award. This means that where the parties have appointed an agreed Surveyor, or each Owner has appointed their own Surveyor, the Building Owner will be responsible for payment of all Surveyors fees.
 
The Award produced by the agreed Surveyor or the two Surveyors will contain details of the work that the Building Owner intends to carry out, in the form of statements and drawings, agreed by the Surveyors as being appropriate. The Award will also contain a photographic schedule of condition of the Adjoining Owner’s property, so that on completion of the Building Owner’s work the Adjoining Owner’s property can be checked by cross-referencing against the schedule of condition to make sure that no damage has been caused by the work. The schedule of condition protects the interests of both Owners in that it would be difficult for a Building Owner to deny responsibility for damage that was not recorded on the schedule before the work started. Likewise, the Building Owner is also protected from potential accusations of damage to an Adjoining Owner’s property that may have existed before the Building Owner started work.
 
In the event of damage to an Adjoining Owner’s property the agreed Surveyor or two Surveyors’ will decide upon the extent of the remedial works that are required to the Adjoining Owner’s property. As with their own costs for the original Award, Party Wall Surveyor’s have quite far reaching powers and where it is evident that damage has been caused to an Adjoining Owner’s property, a Party Wall Surveyor not only has the power to decide the extent of the remedial works, but also the costs that the Building Owner must pay.
 
If an Owner does not agree with a decision made by a Party Wall Surveyor, there is an entitlement to appeal to the County Court against the decision. However, such an appeal must be made within 14 days of the date of the decision. Otherwise, the decision will be final and conclusive and will not capable of being challenged in any Court.   
 
Whenever there is a possibility that the Party Wall etc Act 1996 applies to work that you are intending to carry out, or you are the recipient of a Party Wall Notice, specialist advice ought to be taken. A good Party Wall Surveyor will be able to guide you through this quite complex area of the law and provide you with a complete overview of all of your rights and obligations.
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