Party Wall Explained
If you own a terraced or semi-detached home or any other property that connects to another plot of land, you may have a party wall. These types of walls have specific rules and regulations you need to follow if you’re planning on doing certain forms of work to them.
For first-time property owners or people who have never confronted a party wall before, they can be a bit confusing to navigate and cause a few headaches, especially if you’re new to the process.
Thankfully, we’re experts regarding everything party walls and can help you through the process of working on them, making things easier for you. If you need clarification on what a party wall is, how to identify one, and what you can do with it, here’s everything you need to know in this party wall guide.
What is a Party Wall?
A party wall is a wall that stands on the land of two or more properties, spanning into each owner’s plot of land. This means that the ownership and responsibility of the party wall are shared. If any owner attempts to do significant work to the wall, then all the other owners must be informed and ideally agree to the work.
A party wall can be part of two connecting buildings, the most common type of party wall, but it can also be a structure that doesn’t connect to any buildings and stands alone across a border between properties. This second type of party wall is known as a Party Fence Wall and is usually a stone wall used to separate the garden areas of houses.
What is not a Party Wall?
In many cases, a wall may appear to be a party wall, but on closer inspection turns out to be a boundary wall, a wholly separate and distinct type of structure.
Party walls are often incorrectly referred to as boundary walls, but this is wrong. Many use these terms interchangeably, but a boundary wall is not a party wall.
A boundary wall sits wholly on one owner’s land, with its piers also on the same land. A good way to visualise this is to draw a line on some paper representing the boundary line between two properties and then get a Lego brick to signify your wall. If you place that Lego brick entirely on one side of the line, it’s a boundary wall, as it doesn’t cross the divide. Moving that brick to cover the line and poke into both properties makes it a party wall.
One critical job of a party wall surveyor is to assess the placement of walls to see if they are boundary or party walls, as this will alter what you can and can’t do without your neighbour’s approval.
You can also have Party Fence Walls, which have no buildings attached to them and are likely stone fences to separate garden areas. These types of walls are considered party walls, just do be aware that wooden fences do not count and aren’t considered party walls.
The different types of Party Walls
In addition to both party walls and party fence walls, these types of walls can be broken down into even more subsections and varieties, which influence how they’re meant to be dealt with if you or a neighbour wants to complete any work on it.
If you have a party wall, it can be one of either two types:
This is the simplest type of party wall to deal with. It’s a wall that stands astride the boundary line of two or more properties. In this case, the boundary line will dissect the wall in half more often than not, meaning that the wall is in two different properties.
The most common example of this type of wall is one that separates terraced or semi-detached houses.
This type of party wall can be a bit confusing. These walls are where most of the wall falls on one side of the boundary line, but a section of the wall crosses over. Only the part that crosses over into two different properties is considered a party wall, meaning you can do any work you please on the rest of the wall.
As you can expect, it can be tough to know and identify a Type B wall, so our experienced Chartered Surveyors and party wall experts are here to help you identify party walls and inform you of your rights as a property owner regarding what you can do with that wall.
In addition to party walls, you can also get party structures. These are referred to as parts of a single building with different owners that separate each owner’s section. The best example of this is a block of flats. The walls, ceilings, and floors used to separate each flat is known as a party structure.
What can I do to a party wall?
There are a lot of different rules and regulations surrounding party walls and what you can do to them. This is because one individual isn’t the sole owner of a party wall, meaning that for work to be done on it, due process needs to be followed for you to get permission to complete work.
That said, there are things that you’re allowed to do to a party wall where you don’t need to get permission from your neighbour. These actions include:
- Tiling the interior of the party wall that’s within your property
- Painting or replastering the party wall that’s within your property boundary line
- Adding shelving to the interior of a party wall
- Re-wring or adding electrical wires to the party wall
You’re allowed to do all this without any fuss because these changes aren’t impacting the structural integrity of the party wall and won’t impact it in a way where the other owners are affected.
If you have bigger plans, such as making structural changes to the wall or building on top of it, you can still do that; however, you’ll need to follow the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 and get your neighbour or a surveyor to approve your proposed work.
What is the Party Wall etc. Act 1996?
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 is a piece of government legislation outlining what you can and can’t do to a party wall and the process you must follow to complete work on a party wall.
The most recent iteration of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 came in 1996 and is when party walls were clearly defined into what they are today. This piece of legislation has its origin traced back to just after the Great Fire of London in 1666, when changes were made to help prevent the spread of fire from one adjourning property to another in the future.
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 covers many different topics and actions you can make to the wall. If you plan to do anything the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 covers, you must follow its rules. These rules cover what you’re allowed to do and detail the framework you need to follow when asking your neighbour for permission to complete work on a party wall.
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 covers:
- Breaking down and rebuilding a shared party wall
- Adding in an extension that uses the party wall
- Increasing or decreasing the thickness of the party wall
- Underpinning the party wall, which is where the current foundations on the wall are reinformed so that it can bare more weight
- Cutting into the party boundary wall
- Excavation and foundation work on or near the party wall
- Adding a damp-proof course to the wall
The Process of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996
If you’re looking to complete work on your property that involves the party wall, then you need to follow a strict process to ensure everything is completed correctly.
One of the first things you must do is give your neighbour a Party Wall Notice. This details everything you plan to do to the party wall, allowing them to assess what they want to do and decide their thoughts about the proposal.
It’s best to have an informal chat with your neighbour before sending this notice so that both can get a better idea of each person’s wants and needs, and it also prevents the notice from feeling like a massive, out-of-the-blue surprise.
Once received, the neighbour has 14 days to respond to your notice. They can either send a written agreement back to you, which is the ideal response, or they can send a counter-notice that may request additional work to be done to the wall – which they’ll pay for if it benefits their property. In addition to this, the neighbour can refuse, also known as dissent, and it will start a dispute resolution process where you’ll need a surveyor like us to help.
If a neighbour doesn’t respond within 14 days, the notice automatically dissents, so make sure you get a response from them to try and avoid this too.
If the two property owners can’t agree, then both must appoint a surveyor like us to agree on a Party Wall Award. Both parties can hire the same surveyor, or you can choose to have separate surveyors for each property owner. If your neighbour refuses or fails to appoint a surveyor themselves, you can select one on their behalf.
A Party Wall Award is a legal document that a surveyor like us will produce that will say clearly what work is allowed to be done. This is done independently and impartially; the results are based on our assessment when viewing the property. A Party Wall Award will include:
- What work should happen
- How the work will be carried out, including timescales
- Who will pay for what, and the total amount that should be paid, including the surveyor’s fees
Of course, if you don’t like the results of the Party Wall Award, you can appeal its decision at county court within 14 days of receiving the award. To do this, you must file an appellant’s notice and explain why you’re appealing. Do note that taking things to county court can become pretty expensive and drag out the process even more, so only do it if you’re confident you can get a Party Wall Award amended and overturned.
If the neighbour agrees with you and is happy to accept your Party Wall Notice, work can start immediately without requiring a surveyor to look at the party wall. When carrying out building work to a party wall, you need to ensure that you avoid causing unnecessary inconvenience and that work is only done at sensible times. You also need to adequately protect your neighbour’s property from damage and pay to fix any damage that you have caused.
When working on a party wall, your neighbour must give you, workpeople, and surveyors access to their property if needed to complete the work. That said, you must send them 14 days’ notice.
Party Wall FAQs
What will a party wall surveyor do?
A party wall surveyor can do a lot regarding the party wall process. Our primary focus is to assess party walls and issue Pary Wall Awards, which include all the important details about the work allowed to be done to the wall.
To issue this award, we may have to come to the property and complete a site inspection to create photographic schedules of conditions to help determine what can be done. That said, surveyors like us at Copeland Yussuf do a lot more than this.
In addition, we offer advice on the procedure and can help you write or respond to a Party Wall Notice. If they have one, we'll also meet with the adjoining neighbour's surveyor to compile findings and work out a fair and unbiased resolution.
How expensive is doing work on a party wall?
The price you pay for the work done to a party wall will differ in almost every situation. Of course, the scale of the work being done will affect the final price of any work done to a wall, but different things like surveyor and potential court fees can make it a bit more expensive.
The work on the party wall will be the cheapest it can be if your neighbour agrees to your Party Wall Notice, with you only having to pay for help serving the notice. If there's dissent and the need for surveyors to assess the wall and write a Party Wall Award, then this will run up the costs. Furthermore, if the award is challenged and taken to court, this can make things even more expensive.
Who pays a party wall surveyor's fee?
The majority of the time, the individual who proposed the work for the party wall will be the one that pays for all the surveyor fees, even the surveyors appointed by the adjoining neighbour. This is because the work done to the wall will benefit their property, not the neighbour's property.
In certain situations, the surveyor may decide that the neighbour has to pay when the work required for the party wall is due to them not keeping up on maintenance to stop the wall from disrepair.
What are the different types of Party Wall Notices?
Three main types of Party Wall Notices can be served, making it even more important to use a Chartered Surveyor to ensure that you issue the right kind for the work you're doing.
The first type of notice is a Line of Junction Notice. This is issued when the boundaries between two properties have no buildings or structures yet and are used to let you and your neighbour figure out the boundary line and determine any future wall's position and type.
You can also issue a Party Structure Notice that covers any changes you want to make to an existing party wall, such as adding beams or removing a chimney.
The final type of notice is an Adjacent Excavation Notice or a Three/Six Metre Notice. This is served if any excavation or foundation work is being undertaken to the wall or within three metres of the party wall.
When do you need to send a Party Wall Notice?
It's best practice to send a Party Wall Notice well before you have the work planned. This is to give you plenty of time to get a response from your neighbour and go through the surveying and award process if a disagreement needs to be resolved.
To give you enough time to deal with any potential setbacks, it's suggested that you send a Party Wall Notice two or three months before you plan to do the work. If it's significant work, such as building a new property or extension, it's a good courtesy to send a notice a year before the work is scheduled so the neighbour can fully prepare.
How do you serve a Party Wall Notice?
As the property owner, you don't hand over the notice to any adjoining neighbours. Although you are involved in drafting and creating the notice, the serving of a notice should be done by a professional party wall surveyor such as ourselves at Copeland Yussuf.
To improve the chances of things going well, use a surveyor when issuing a Party Wall Notice. This is because we'll be able to ensure that the correct and accurate notices are issued. If you serve an incorrect notice, you may not be covered for the work you plan to do.
What happens if I don't serve a Party Wall Notice?
If you start working on a party wall before sending a notice or before a notice is agreed to, then you can be taken to court by your neighbour, which can be very expensive because of the legal fees involved.
In addition to that, because Party Wall Notices serve as legal protection and documentation of the work you're going to do, a neighbour can claim that you damaged their property while working on the wall. You would have no defence against it, which could lead to an expensive claim against you.
How long does the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 process take?
Multiple factors influence how long the approval process for your party wall work will take. As stated above, you'll start the process no later than two months before you plan to complete the work, as this is when you need to inform your neighbour of a notice.
If they take their time to get back to you or dissent your request, things will get dragged out even further, and you'll need to get a surveyor in to generate a Party Wall Award. It takes about four weeks for an Award to be issued by a surveyor, as we need to assess and consider multiple factors and information. Still, if there's a hold-up with you or your adjoining neighbour selecting a surveyor, things can take longer.
Once you have your award, you'll be able to get to work straight away. Just be mindful that if you need access to your neighbour's house, you'll need to give them 14 days' notice, which can further elongate the process.
Does a garden wall count as a party wall?
The proper name for a shared garden wall is a Party Fence Wall. These are also covered in the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 and will require you to follow the same process to complete work on it.
To be considered a party fence wall, a garden wall must be made of permanent material, such as stone or brick. A garden fence made of wood does not count as a party wall, even if it crosses the boundary line.
Where does the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 apply?
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996, amended in July 1997, only applies in England and Wales. If you live in Scotland, Northern Ireland, or on any of the Channel Islands, then there are different rules that you'll need to follow. The rules will usually be pretty similar, but in these areas, common law is used to settle wall disputes.