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Party to the facts – Party Wall Notices

08/01/24Party to the facts – Party Wall Notices

Party walls can become one of the most complicated and contentious aspects of a development between neighbours. We sometimes become involved in party wall issues in our capacity as building surveyors and we always advise to serve a party wall notice if it looks like the development or structure – be it a new-build or an extension – will affect the shared wall or boundary.

Shared responsibility

In England and Wales, if you plan to carry out any building work near or on your shared property boundary, the ‘party wall’, you must inform all neighbours that are affected. Party walls stand on the land of two or more owners and either form part of a building – this can be a dwelling or an outbuilding – or don’t form part of a building – such as a solid garden wall (but not a wooden fence). The definition also includes walls on one owner’s land that form a boundary used by another owner, to separate their buildings.

You must inform your neighbours if you want to build on or at the boundary of your two properties; work on an existing party wall or party structure; or excavate below and near the foundation level of their property, possibly undermining it or causing other structural upheaval. Examples include building a new wall, cutting into a party wall, changing the dimensions of the party wall to become taller, shorter or deeper, removing chimneys from a party wall, or knocking down and/or rebuilding a party wall. Neighbours can’t stop anyone from making changes to their property that are within the law and building regulations, but they can affect how and when the work is carried out.

Establishing boundaries

One of our building surveyors has recently been involved in an instance that has highlighted the importance of approaching party walls with caution.

After the planning application was submitted, approval was granted and the builder is now on site. From the outset, we advised our client to serve a party wall notice. However, they decided against this and instead spoke directly to their neighbour, who had no objections to the work being carried out on the party wall. Subsequently, we advised that as a minimum, we should conduct a condition survey of the neighbouring property – to safeguard both parties, in case of any disputes going forward, such as damage to the neighbour’s property. At the time of the condition survey, the neighbour had a couple of concerns regarding how far the extension was going to be coming out and how close to their property it would be when finished. It was therefore verbally agreed that the gap between would be increased slightly.

With best intentions

As work progressed, the neighbour then said they were not happy with the proximity of the new extension to their property. Our client has decided to extend the full width to the rear of the property, as per the initial planning approval, and not kept it slightly further back, as previously agreed with the neighbour. So, even though our client has planning approval to build the full width of the property and is not over the party wall line, disputes can still arise. This can even happen when you have the best intentions not to cause a dispute and try to ensure the planning and construction process runs smoothly. As a consequence, we would suggest that it is always advisable to serve a party wall notice, as all this will do is allow you to build up to a boundary line, without fear of objection and future dispute.

If you would like advice or guidance from one of our surveyors regarding party wall notices and building consent, then get in touch with us today.

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