Party Wall etc. Act 1996 Explained
If you are to complete work on a party wall, you’re at the mercy of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. Last drafted in 1996, this act includes numerous details about what you’re allowed to do to a party wall and what process you need to follow to ensure you’re doing everything correctly.
This act can be confusing and difficult to understand for people who haven’t worked on a party wall before. Thankfully, as party wall surveyors, we have a full understanding of the act and all that it entails, meaning that we can support you. Here’s everything you need to know about the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 to ensure that whatever work you plan on a party wall is legal and follows the rules.
What is the Party Wall etc. Act 1996?
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 is a piece of legislation that includes all the rules and terminology surrounding party walls. It was introduced in 1996 to help give a framework for people to follow if any disputes surrounding a party wall needed to be resolved.
The act has laid out what a party wall is, ensuring that there is clarity between this and a boundary wall, and it also features what steps need to be followed if you’re to complete work on a party wall properly.
In short, the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 is an essential document for all things party wall related and includes all the guidance that needs to be followed. As party wall surveyors, our task when issuing Party Wall Awards and Notices is that this act is adhered to at all times so that breaches of the legislation are avoided.
What's included in the Party Wall etc. Act 1996?
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 details all the types of building work it covers. If you plan to do any of the work mentioned in the act, you need to follow its rules and process.
In short, the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 covers structural changes made to a party wall, so if you’re thinking of adding to a party wall or removing a party wall, then you can only do so if you’ve followed all the steps in the act and have gotten permission from your neighbour. The full list of work that is covered by the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 includes the following:
- The destruction or removal of all or a section of a party wall
- Repairing or rebuilding a party wall
- Adding extensions or any other kind of building work that uses the party wall, such as a loft conversion
- Changing the thickness of the party wall
- Underpinning the party wall so that the foundations can bear more weight
- Excavation or foundation work on or near the party wall
- Damp-proofing or adding insulation to the party wall
What must be done when following the Party Wall etc. Act 1996?
You need to do a few things when following the guidance from the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. Before doing anything else, you must send a Party Wall Notice to your adjourning neighbour. This document alerts them to the work you plan on doing and asks for their permission to do the work. This document needs to be sent at least a month before you plan to do the job, and it could be even longer, depending on what you plan to do.
You must send a formal notice to start any work, even if you have verbal consent from your neighbour. This is so that you have evidence that due process has been followed.
Once a notice has been sent, your neighbour has the right to reply. You must create a Party Wall Agreement if they agree to the work. This can be a signed copy of your notice, as long as there’s an explicit declaration that the work has been agreed to. With this agreement, work can start based on the timescales and dates included in your notice and agreement.
Per the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, you’ll enter a party wall dispute phase if the notice hasn’t been agreed to. The only way to resolve the dispute is to contact a party wall surveyor who can assess the property and the party wall and then issue a Party Wall Award using their findings, as well as guidance from the Party Wall etc. Act 1996.
A Party Wall Award is a final ruling that details what is allowed to happen and must be served if you do any work on a party wall. According to the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, you must follow the details of a Party Wall Award accurately, and any deviation from what is permitted can land you in trouble.
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 allows you to challenge a Party Wall Award if you don’t like the outcome, but doing that will take the matter to county court, which can be both time-consuming and expensive.
Party Wall etc. Act 1996 FAQs
What is a party wall?
A party wall is a boundary wall that divides two or more properties that overlaps across the boundary line, meaning that it's part of two or more pieces of land. For example, a wall that separates two terraced houses can be a party wall if it straddles the boundary line.
As they're present in two or more properties, a party wall is technically owned by multiple people, so permission is required for you to work on them.
There are multiple types of party walls detailed in the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, and each has its own regulations about what you're allowed to do to them.
When was the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 first introduced?
The current Party Wall etc. Act 1996 was drafted in 1996 and first implemented in July 1997, and this is where things such as the definitions of party walls and the rules around them were created.
That said, the act is much older than this and originated in 1666 after the Great Fire of London. At this time, it was created to display rules on preventing a fire from spreading from connected houses.
What regions are not covered by the Party Wall etc. Act 1996?
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 does not cover Scotland or Northern Ireland. If there are any party wall disputes in this area, they're settled through common law.
Is the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 a legal requirement?
Yes, the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 is a legal requirement and is something that you need to follow. Failure to do so can lead to some dire consequences.
What's not included in the Party Wall etc. Act 1996?
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 only enforces rules for structural work done to a party wall. This means that more cosmetic changes aren't covered, and you're free to make changes without obtaining permission from your neighbour. For example, putting up shelves or repainting a party wall is all okay and isn't covered by the act.
What happens if I breach the Party Wall etc. Act 1996?
As a party wall is a legal requirement that you must follow, if you're in breach of the act, you can get fined and taken to court by your neighbour. If you don't do your due diligence to follow the required process, you can get into a fair bit of trouble, which can cost you money and cause delays in your building work.
What is the purpose of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996?
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 was amended in 1996 and implemented the following year to provide a framework for preventing or resolving disputes about party walls and boundary walls.
What is some key jargon in the Party Wall etc. Act 1996?
For those who haven't encountered the Party Wal Act, it can be dense with many unfamiliar words. As party wall surveyors are experts and understand the act, we can help you decipher what needs to be done.
The key phrases you need to know include the term 'Adjourning neighbour'. This refers to the neighbour whose property the party wall crosses into.
You should also know what a Party Fence Wall is. This type of party wall isn't connected to a building structure and is typically a garden wall that sits across the boundary line.
A Party Structure is another helpful phrase and refers to parts of a building that divides between properties. For example, a party structure can be a ceiling, floor, or wall that separates different units within a block of flats.
Who enforces the Party Wall etc. Act 1996?
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 is a legal document, so county court judges will enforce that the rules are followed and can issue penalties and fines if any breaches occur. When working on your party wall, you can also get a surveyor who ensures you follow the document's guidance. As party wall surveyors, their main focus is to ensure the act is permanently adhered to and are good tools to help you stay within the regulations.
Are there any exceptions to the Party Wall etc. Act 1996?
There are no exceptions to the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. If you're planning any building work on a party wall, as defined in the act, then you need to follow the procedure in the legislation. Of course, if you're not in England or Wales, then the act isn't in place, but in these regions, you have no other option but to adhere to it.