Commercial Party Walls
If you share a wall with a neighbouring property, this is a party wall.
Where a wall separates two different size buildings often only the part that is used by both properties is a party wall, the rest belongs to the company on whose land it stands.
Since the Party Wall etc Act 1996 came into force, property owners in England and Wales have had a procedure to follow when building work involves a party wall or party fence wall, some excavations close to neighbouring buildings, and new walls at boundaries.
The Act permits owners to carry out certain specific works, including work to the full thickness of a party wall, whilst at the same time protecting the interests of anyone else who might be affected by that work.
The Act is designed to avoid or minimise disputes by making sure property owners notify their neighbours in advance of certain proposed works; where the adjoining owner does not ‘agree’ in writing to the works, a surveyor will determine the time and way in which those works are carried out.
What is not covered by the Act?
The Act relates only to certain specific types of work and is permissive in nature. It is not intended to be applied to everyday minor jobs that do not affect the structural integrity or loading of a party wall, such as:
- Fixing plug sockets
- Screwing in wall units or shelving
- Adding or replacing electrical wiring or sockets
- Replastering walls.
What is covered by the Act?
There are some things that you can only do to a party wall after notifying your neighbour and either with the written agreement of the neighbour or with a Party Wall Award prepared by a surveyor/surveyors. Such works include:
- Cutting into a wall to take the bearing of a beam, for example for a loft conversion
- Inserting a damp proof course, even if only to your own side of a party wall
- Raising a party wall and, if necessary, cutting off any objects preventing this from happening
- Demolishing and rebuilding a party wall
- Underpinning a party wall or part of a party wall
- Weathering the junction of adjoining walls or buildings by cutting a flashing into an adjoining building
- Excavating foundations within three metres of a neighbour’s structure and lower than its foundations
- Excavating foundations within six metres of a neighbour’s structure and below a line drawn down at 45o from the bottom of its foundations
You must also notify your neighbour if you propose to build a new wall on the line of junction (boundary) between two properties.
What do I have to do?
If you intend to do any of these things, you must give written notice to your neighbours at least two months before starting any party wall works or one month for ‘line of junction’ or excavation works. Before you start the specific works you must either have your neighbour’s written agreement to the proposed works or appoint a surveyor to prepare a Party Wall Award in respect of them.
What if there’s a dispute?
Where written agreement is not given, within 14 days of the notice, the solution the Act provides is for both parties to appoint an ‘agreed surveyor’ who will act impartially or each owner appoints a surveyor, to draw up a document called an ‘Award’. This details the work to be carried out, usually records the condition of the relevant part of adjoining property and may also grant access to both properties so that the works can be safely carried out and the surveyor/s can inspect work in progress.
The Award will determine who pays for the work if this is in dispute. Generally, the building owner who started the work pays for all expenses of work and the reasonable costs, but these will be apportioned between the owners where appropriate.