Sep 05

Property developers: the cost of ignoring the Party Wall Act of 1996

Owners planning to extend their property often see the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, as an unnecessary and expensive additional layer of red tape but it should be remembered that the original purpose of the Act was to enable development rather than stifle it.

Consider a situation where an owner of a terraced property (known as the ‘building owner’ under the Act) wants to construct a full width rear extension. They have a right to build up to the boundaries on either side – but without access it will be very difficult to construct the flank walls and virtually impossible to point or render them.

The Party Wall Act overcomes the problem by providing a right-to-access on to their neighbours’ land (the ‘adjoining owners’) and also the right to erect scaffolding (if necessary) to undertake the works safely. Access is granted for as long as is necessary, and in almost all cases there is no requirement to pay compensation.

Compare this to a situation where an owner wants to go on to a resistant neighbour’s land to undertake some essential maintenance work. Their only option would be to apply for access using the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992 but unlike with the Party Wall Act, that will require a court order and possibly the payment of compensation.

In addition, the Party Wall Act allows a building owner to go on to the adjoining owner’s premises to check constructional details (if necessary) and their surveyor will normally have an opportunity to record a schedule of condition to help protect the them from dubious claims for damages later in the process.

Finally, the scope for damages payable under the Act is much narrower than at common law, which will be to the benefit of the building owner should problems arise.

Before a building owner can take advantage of these rights, they must serve a notice including details of the work and when they expect to start. If the adjoining owner is concerned about the affect of the works on their property, they have the right to appoint a surveyor – and the owner of the building will pay that surveyor’s fee. If the adjoining owner appoints a surveyor, the building owner must do the same so that a party wall award can be agreed. However, the two owners can concur in the appointment of a single surveyor (known as the ‘Agreed Surveyor’) and that is largely encouraged on smaller projects.

The appointed surveyors will ensure that the building owner is not denied the rights afforded by the Act, but also that the inconvenience to the adjoining owner is kept to a minimum.

The issues that the surveyors will deal within their Award include the following:

  • Access for the building owner
  • Working hours
  • Making good any damage that occurs
  • The need for temporary support/weathering
  • Requests for security

Surveyors are always mindful that the considerable rights of the building owner must be balanced by the protection offered to the adjoining owner, and the Party Wall Act provides a useful framework within which that can be achieved.


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