For most people, the concept of a wall is pretty straightforward. But for property developers, even something as concrete as this gets complicated. Party wall legislation is tricky, and the legal jargon surrounding it can take ages to sift through. So, here is a guide to party wall legislation for property developers – in layman’s terms.
A Brief Introduction to Party Wall Legislation
The Party Wall etc Act was passed in 1996 to set standards for what needs to happen when property owners want to alter the structure that separates their building from their neighbours’ buildings. The act also lays out a regimen for how to proceed when the parties involved are not in agreement.
This framework was designed to prevent and resolve disputes between neighbours with regards to party walls, boundary walls, and excavations that are set to take place near neighbouring buildings.
The short of it: Property owners and developers must tell their neighbours if they intend to do building work on or near the shared property boundary.
Defining the Party Wall
The government defines a party wall (aka party structure) as a structure that fits any one of these descriptions:
- a structure that stands on two or more owners’ properties, not including wooden fences
- a structure that stands on two or more owners’ properties and forms part of a building (or part of multiple buildings belonging to different property owners)
- a structure that stands on one owner’s property and is used by two or more owners to separate their buildings
The best way to understand party walls is to think of flats or office buildings. In both types of buildings, various parties live in the same building in different spaces that are separated by walls. When there are multiple property owners in the same building, party wall legislation is absolutely relevant.
Most party walls are in fact walls, but the Party Wall etc Act covers structures like floor partitions or other structures that separate buildings or parts of buildings owned by different people.
The Act In Action
When a property developer wants to alter a party wall or excavate near neighbouring buildings, the Party Wall etc Act requires the owner to notify her neighbours of her plans. The act specifies that the owner/developer must contact neighbours in any of the following events:
- there is to be any new construction on or at the boundary of two or more properties (such as building a new wall on this boundary)
- there is to be any work done to an existing party structure (such as cutting into a standing party wall or altering its height)
- there is to be any excavation done near or below the foundation level of neighbouring buildings (such as digging below the foundation level of a neighbour’s property)
An important note is that you don’t need to tell your neighbours about minor changes such as adding or replacing electrical wiring, drilling to put up shelves, plastering or painting the wall, etc.
When you do need to inform your neighbours as the act requires, there are a few guidelines you must follow. These include:
- Give notice – in writing – two months to a year before construction begins (this booklet includes letter templates to make this initial step easier).
- Reach an agreement in writing. Your neighbours have two weeks to give consent and one month to refuse consent – Either way, all notices must be in writing, and your neighbours must respond either way. “No news is good news” does not apply when it comes to party wall legislation.
The act spells out the dispute resolution process in cases where your neighbours may not comply to what you plan to do. The act also requires that you and your neighbours share the construction costs in certain cases, and a building surveyor can help you determine who is responsible and for how much of the costs.
Knowing the basics of party wall legislation can help you as a property developer understand what is required of you – and when to seek extra help. Legal experts and surveyors can make a complex building project or neighbour disagreement run more smoothly so that you can achieve the results you’re looking for in your next construction project.