Shining a light on Party Wall Agreements

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So, you remember my less-than-capable architectural technician…? Well, his parting advice was “you need a Party Wall Agreement” due to the nature of the work being completed, and that was about it. As an American who grew up in a “detached” house (and I use quotations to describe detached as that classification wasn’t something I had come across until I moved to the UK), this whole agreement thing threw me for a loop. He could have been speaking Swahili for all I knew about Party Wall Agreements.

The necessity of this agreement prompted a flurry of research and several frantic phone calls to surveyors in Cambridge. Of the surveyors I spoke to, the advice was the same: I was free to draft a Party Wall Agreement for my neighbors to review and sign, and if there was a dispute, they would then become involved. Otherwise, they didn’t feel the need to draw up the agreement but they would for a small fee.

Being ever so savvy, I went for it on my own and my research turned up the following points:

  • The notice has to be provided in writing at least 30 days in advance of the works starting;
  • It has to give the name and address of the building owner – if owned in joint names, all joint owners must be named;
  • It has to be signed – signature should be by the owner, or a person fully authorized to sign notices on the owner’s behalf;
  • It has to be dated – the date on the notice should be the one on which it is delivered in person, posted to the recipient owner or delivered to the adjacent premises;
  • It has to be properly served on all adjoining owners as defined by the Act, whether freehold or leasehold – if an adjoining property is owned in joint names, it has been held that it is only strictly necessary to serve the notice on one of them, however, it is good practice to effect service of a copy of the notice on all joint owners whose identities and addresses are known;
  • It has to state the nature and particulars of the intended works and the date on which it is intended to commence the works – descriptions of intended works should be directed toward a layperson and contain sufficient detail to enable the extent of works to be understood (aka, anybody should be able to understand what you’re doing to your home);
  • Where served under section 6, it has to be accompanied by plans and sections showing the site and depth of any excavation and the site of any new building, and state whether the building owner intends to underpin, or otherwise strengthen, or safeguard the foundations of the adjoining owner’s building – it is good practice to identify the location of the adjoining owner’s building on the drawings;
  • Where served under section 3 and involving special foundations, be accompanied by drawings showing the special foundation details and reasonable particulars of the loads to be carried; and
  • Advise the adjoining owner of other issues that may cause statutorily relevant concerns so as to avoid statutory disputes arising at a critical time of the project – for example, access, projecting foundations, scaffolding, etc. 

The response also had to be provided within certain constraints:

  • When notice is received, the adjoining owner can do one of three things:
    • do nothing;
    • agree to the works as proposed; or
    • dissent to the works as proposed.
  • The proceedings for each of these choices are covered in the following paragraphs:
  • For party structure notices and notices of adjacent excavation, the adjoining owner’s failure to respond within 14 days of service of notice will result in a deemed dispute. The section 10 statutory dispute resolution process then commences.
  • The adjoining owner may express consent in writing to the works as proposed in the notices. This should not be considered as a waiver of the adjoining owner’s rights under the Act, but simply a statement that, at present, there is nothing in dispute.
  • If the adjoining owner dissents from any notice served, then the dispute must be settled in accordance with section 10 of the Act. Each owner may agree to the selection of one surveyor (the agreed surveyor) who will determine the matters in dispute. Alternatively, each party may appoint a surveyor and those two surveyors will select a third surveyor. Two of the three surveyors will then determine the matters in dispute. Either of the appointed surveyors, or either of the owners, may call upon the third surveyor to determine matters on which they cannot agree (see chapter 9).
  • The appointment of a surveyor arises out of a dispute between the two owners, usually following service of the notice. A dispute arises when there is an express dissent to a notice, or one is deemed to arise when the adjoining owner does not respond to a party structure notice or notice of adjacent excavation within 14 days. An actual dispute may also occur in respect of work to which the Act relates, but where no notice has been given.

I’ve attached a copy of the letter I provided my neighbor, (having removed my personal information). This was signed without incident and within the 14 days necessary.

I will caveat all this to say I am not a legal expert and I went on the advice provided me by experts. If you have concerns or questions it is best to seek advice from a trained professional in your area as they will also be familiar with any potential peculiarities about building regulations. Your builder should also have a recommendation of a surveyor they have worked with in the past and they might be the best resource. Finally, further information can be found on the UK government’s web page.

And while all of this is relevant to the UK, I urge others to look into the legislations of their own countries. Obviously planning permission is one thing, but each country will have its own set of rules and regulations and it is fundamental you abide by these laws. To not do so could compromise your future build and potentially your ability to sell your home in the future.

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