The party wall process can be complex to navigate but with good communication, sound advice and suitable planning much of it can be streamlined.
When planning your extension, new home or refurbishment project, something you might not have considered are your obligations under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. The act applied to owners undertaking extension work throughout England and Wales and require a notice of an owners intention to undertake these work - to be served to an adjoining owner - which can give rise to a party wall award depending on how the notice is acknowledged.
Generally, this involves work to a shared wall in a terraced property, excavation within 3 or 6 metres of a neighbours properties when new foundations are proposed or new construction where lands of different owners adjoin in gardens.
You have is a legal requirement to serve a notice, and you must appoint a Party Wall Surveyor, depending how the notice is acknowledged, to oversee the process and draw up the legal documentation. This includes the Architectural and Structural Engineer drawings together with any relevant method statements. You cannot act for yourself if you have an interest in a property. Your Architect will manage the process for you, as your Lead Consultant – coordinating the necessary information and submitting this to the Party Wall surveyor as required.
We asked a local party wall surveyor, Steven Vaughan, Managing Director of Steven Vaughan Associates (www.stevenvaughan.co.uk), for his thoughts on the party wall process:
1. What are the main considerations to be aware of regarding the Party Wall Act?
When undertaking work which is notifiable under sections of the Act you have a legal obligation to notify all adjoining owners of your intention to undertake work which could affect their property. We would recommend the notices are prepared by an experienced surveyor on your behalf and once served, effectively begin the process.
Each adjoining owner has 14 days to acknowledge the notice and can either, 'consent', meaning they are content with your works or 'dissent' meaning they would like their rights and obligations set out in a party wall award.
If a consent is received you will have fulfilled your legal obligations and can start work immediately, it is recommended that you engage your surveyor to undertake a schedule of condition of their property to narrow the argument in the event of any damage. If no response is received a dispute is deemed to have arisen and we can serve a 10 day letter to further the process and eventually appoint a surveyor to act on an adjoining owners behalf in the event notices remain ignored. An adjoining owner could also 'dissent' to the notice and appoint your surveyor to act impartially to agree and serve a party wall award setting out the rights and obligations of both owners, this is known as an 'agreed survyeor' appointment. An adjoining also has the right to appoint their own surveyor and you are liable for their reasonable costs, which will usually be based on their hourly rate multiplied by time spent in effective conclusion of the matter which is then agreed by your surveyor who is appointed to act on your behalf. The net result of the 'dissent' options is that a party wall award is agreed and served onto both owners that authorises your work by exercising your legal rights whilst safeguarding an adjoining owners interest in the event that any damage is caused.
"Informal communication with neighbours is paramount and could result in savings of thousands of pounds and months of delay"
2. What advice would you give to someone planning their extension or refurbishment project?
Start early, be as prepared as possible because some notices have a 2 month time statutory time period before you can start the work, this can however be waived by an adjoining owner. Do not hesitate to ask as many questions as necessary to understand your rights and obligations. Ensure you have fully engaged with your design team so that your scheme is as final as possible, any variations to the scheme after the service of award will incur additional fees from surveyors to regularise the legalities of the matter and cause you a delay.
3. Could you explain briefly how the Act works, and what you offer as a PW surveyor during the process?
The Act provides a framework for preventing or resolving disputes in relation to party walls, party structures, boundary walls and excavations near neighbouring buildings. If you are undertaking any notifiable work to your property it is compulsory to meet the requirements of the Act to ensure your legal obligations have been fulfilled. We understand that the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 is a complicated and difficult piece of legislation to navigate. Our objective is to streamline your legal obligations and safeguard your interest through involvement from inception to post-completion using expertise, communication and expectation management in a cost-effective and timely manner. We also provide 30 minutes free advice on any party wall related matter.