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Introduction to party wall issues

Building works and developments on or near a boundary between properties in differing ownerships provide an open invitation to numerous and much reported arguments and disputes. The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (PWA 1996) contains a dispute resolution framework administered by impartial surveyors. It sets out statutory rules and regulations that give notice of proposed works and a procedure for both the building and the adjoining owner to follow before, during and after works are carried out.

This series will highlight common problems that a party wall surveyor experiences, provide practical hints and tips for both building and adjoining owners to assist the process and address some of the key issues we are often asked.

At the outset

It should be made clear to the adjoining owner that the PWA 1996 exists to facilitate and not hinder development and it regulates notifiable works, not the whole development scheme. Equally, the building owner should appreciate that it is often the side effects of a development (like dust, vibration and noise) that irritate adjoining neighbours and, while these are not regulated under the PWA 1996, they are matters that need to be discussed with adjoining owners. Disputes and litigation can be avoided by thoughtful negotiation, which may be conducted by surveyors appointed to give consultancy advice.

The PWA 1996 applies to works on party walls and structures. It does not negate the need for planning permission, building regulation consent or (potentially) listed building consent. The party wall surveyors will be specialists within a team of advisers that may include architects, planners, building and quantity surveyors and valuers.

Appointing a party wall surveyor

At any stage, the building owner and the adjoining owner may each appoint a party wall surveyor to advise and represent them. Alternatively, they may agree to jointly appoint one surveyor to advise them both.

An appointment under the PWA 1996 is made by a formal letter of appointment. Fees for considering the statutory party wall matters are, generally speaking, recoverable from the building owner. Fees for consultancy advice regarding the scope of the PWA 1996 will be payable by the appointing party and will be subject to a separate agreement.

In the case of a dispute, a jointly appointed surveyor may resolve the arguments or the parties’ own surveyors will select a third surveyor to do so.

In each instance, the parties are best advised to instruct surveyors well versed in party walls and the PWA 1996’s procedures. While the idea of potentially having three specialist surveyors on site (in addition to contractors and other advisers) may seem unnecessary, particularly to private individuals arguing about a domestic development, a generalist’s lack of detailed knowledge may increase the risk of a prolonged dispute and substantially increase costs. In particular, the building owner is best advised to instruct a party wall surveyor early and ahead of the development. The surveyor’s practical advice and technical knowledge could save a redesign late in the day.

Appointing a party wall surveyor to provide consultancy advice

A party wall surveyor is well placed to give additional advice to their client on matters outside the scope of the PWA 1996 but connected with the development as a whole. Good, early consultancy advice (particularly for the building owner) will assist to develop a workable strategy and ensure that the right information is obtained from the design team and contractor. This can minimise the risk of costly delays and may be required by, for instance, rights to light insurers.

The client and the surveyor will enter into an agreement for this type of consultancy advice, separate from the appointment under the PWA 1996.

What is a party wall?

The PWA 1996 includes a somewhat baffling description of what a party wall is:

“(a) a wall which forms part of a building and stands on lands of different owners to a greater extent than the projection of any artificially formed support on which the wall rests; and

(b) so much of a wall not being a wall referred to in paragraph (a) above as separates buildings belonging to different owners.”

In simple terms, this usually means there is (or will be) one wall sitting astride a boundary between two adjoining property interests (although the wall may form part of only one building). This is probably best illustrated by diagrams 1 and 2 in the Department for Communities and Local Government’s (DCLG) explanatory booklet.

The Act also defines a “party fence wall” and a “party structure“, where a:

  • Party fence wall is a wall that stands on the boundary, but has no buildings attached to it, like a garden wall.
  • Party structure means a party wall and also a floor/ceiling that separates buildings or parts of buildings. The classic example here is of adjoining flats that have their own separate entrances.

In practice, an experienced party wall surveyor should be able to tell if a wall is (or is likely to be) a party wall, even if it is difficult to confirm categorically ownership of the wall.

Who or what is an owner?

Section 20 defines an “owner” broadly to include:

  • A person receiving the rents or profits of land.
  • A person in possession of land, other than as a mortgagee, a yearly tenant (or less) or a tenant at will.
  • A purchaser of an interest in land (under a contract for purchase or under an agreement for a lease).

It goes on to define:

  • Building owner as an owner of land who wishes to exercise rights under the PWA 1996.
  • Adjoining owner and adjoining occupier as any owner or occupier of land, buildings, storeys or rooms adjoining those of the building owner (or, in relation to excavations under section 6, within the distances specified in that section).

In practice, adjoining ownership is usually identified through the Land Registry, although care must be taken over unregistered leasehold titles of less than seven years. Party wall surveyors will often need to discuss the position with freehold owners and a site visit will usually be required to ascertain the identity of unregistered owners and of occupiers.

Is a party wall notice required and if so, which one?

Whether a party is a building owner (as defined) and needs to give a party wall notice will depend on the type of works that will be carried out. In general, the PWA 1996 applies when the building owner:

  • Plans to build a new wall on the boundary between two adjoining property interests. It does not matter whether there is a boundary wall (which is not a party wall) there already. In practice, section 1 notices are comparatively rare.
  • Intends to carry out works (under section 2) to an existing wall on a boundary, for example, to underpin, repair, rebuild, cut into or demolish it.
  • Proposes to excavate within:
    • three metres of the adjoining owner’s buildings, if the proposed foundations would be deeper than the adjoining owner’s foundations (section 6(1)); or
    • six metres of the adjoining owner’s buildings if any part of the proposed structures (typically foundations) would be dissected by a line drawn downwards at a 45 degree angle from the nearest part of the adjoining owner’s foundations (section 6(2)).

Again, it may be worth referring to the DCLG’s diagrams to illustrate this.

Notice to be served if the PWA 1996’s provisions come into play

Whenever the provisions of the PWA 1996 come into play, the building owner has to serve notice on any adjoining owner. This notice kick starts the statutory process. It should indicate the building owner’s intention to carry out works and describe them. While the building owner should give as much information as possible to enable the adjoining owner to consider properly the works (and possibly avoid the necessity of a party wall award), attention to detail is paramount in order to avoid errors. Errors might invalidate the notice or a subsequent party wall award. A claim regarding an error should be taken quickly after service of the notice to avoid estoppel arguments.

The length of notice the building owner has to give to the adjoining owner depends on the nature of the works. Thus, the building owner must give at least:

In addition, a section 6 notice requires an accompanying plan and section showing the depth of excavation proposed. Trial holes might first have to be made in order to ascertain the depth of the adjoining owners’ foundations. Alternatively, shallow depths might be assumed and precautionary notices issued in order to engage with the adjoining owner’s party wall surveyor.

The above are minimum timescales. In reality, more time is usually needed.

How should the adjoining owner respond?

Once in receipt of a notice, an adjoining owner should not delay in responding. The adjoining owner has 14 days in which to signify consent. If no consent is given or the adjoining owner dissents to the proposed works, party wall surveyors must be appointed and a party wall award agreed before the works can commence.

All too often a notice runs past its 14-day response period and even beyond the further 10-day period during which the adjoining owner can appoint a surveyor under the PWA 1996. Such delay will enable the building owner to appoint a surveyor to act for the adjoining owner and while that surveyor is impartial, the adjoining owner is often left feeling unrepresented.

What happens next?

The procedure followed by the party wall surveyors and the subsequent party wall award will be the topic of future posts.

Malcolm Hollis James Audsley

25 thoughts on “Introduction to party wall issues

  1. Hi
    I have read your recent blog on party wall act….
    We have issued party wall notices to both our neighbours who have both returned their consent to proceed with the works. one neighbour has asked for a ‘schedule of condition’ on their wall near our boundary. we are due to start our work imminenty, but first we both have a garage to demolish (they too are planning an extension and suggest we too get a ‘schedule of condition’ but we cannot do this yet as our extension is not built.
    We have had no dispute and have already had a gentlemans agreement that we will accommodate each other during our builds.

    the thing is; there appears to be no damage to their wall (relatively recent extension in last 30 years) and we know if there was any damage we would be liable to pay for it. So what is the point in us getting a surveyor to tell us their wall is ok and that any damage would be our problem. I have read a lot about the party wall act not being worth the paper it is written off if it gets into dispute and that costs can be high…
    As we have consent to proceed how can we give reassurance to our neighbours that we do not need a schedule of condition?

    I have already taken photos of their wall and boundary area and the gap in between our homes, which of course we will share with them.
    perhaps there is a template we could use to agree our own plans?

    We would be appreciate of any advice from surveyors and non surveyors alike,
    With many thanks in advance

  2. Our neighbours are planning on building a two storey extension. We are a semi detached property with a three year old extension on our property with a roof that has been incorporated with existing roof.We have no problem with next door building but have a issue that they are wanting to build within eight inches between properties? This will make maintenance on both sides impossible as our extension troughings etc will be practically touching! We’ve been to the local planning who say that will pass it as only two objectives have been raised? What problems can arise through being so close? Next door are refusing to move over and won’t discuss it? There has been no party well act served yet so please can you advise us as to what can we do?

  3. The most obvious solution is to discuss the matter with your neighbours and to explain your concerns about maintenance etc, but if they are unwilling to do that, then the only other option will be to wait until a party wall notice is served (I assume under section 6 to excavate for foundations for the extension, rather than anything else) and then raise it through the party wall surveyors. It is not an easy situation and one that doesn’t have an easy answer.

  4. Hello,

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the following situation regarding the PWA.

    I have become aware of a situation where a party wall notice was issued under section 2 and agreed to by the adjoining owner with no request for surveys or anything. An existing wall has been rebuilt (within 3 metres of adjoining building) including digging a new foundation but the notice given, and consented to, did not refer to section 6 of the act in regards to the excavation for the foundation.

    So it seems to me that the work may have gone beyond the scope of what was agreed to in the party wall notice. The adjoining owner now thinks the work has damaged their house. So I am wondering what, if any, protection the PWA would give each party in this situation? Or would this situation now not be covered by the act?


  5. hi i am hoping you can advise me on my problem,we have a party wall between our house and our neighbours house which is approximately 8 feet high,my neighbour had a new conservatory erected and one end was built above the party wall,they then came into my garden and fitted a upvc end structure attached to my side of the party wall without my permission, at that time i was not aware of the party wall act and the fact that they should have informed me,i intend to build my own conservatory next year and building up to the party wall will now be impossible for me to there any course of action i can take to make them remove or re-design( they have also made the structure higher than the original wall many thanks

  6. I have a similar problem where a garage was built up to the line of junction, boundary, this is entirely on the neighbours land and is not a party wall. However the facia and gutter to the garage roof extend beyond the wall and have been installed in our air space.
    We were advised by a solicitor that this was a trespass and the neighbours were given notice and the opportunity to remove the fascia and gutter within 28days.
    If after 28 days has elapsed nothing has happened then you can remove the items yourself (undamaged) and must place them back on the neighbours land.

    However I believe that the party wall act enables you to cut back any foundations projections, copings, facias and gutters from the party wall to allow another wall to be built up to a party wall. Please check these facts / take legal advice for yourself before taking any action.

    I would be grateful for any views / opinions on the following scenario.

    I am aware that the party wall act also covers new walls that are to built up to the junction (boundary) that are notifiable ,and that access has to be given to build the wall. However if this were to be an existing wall (built prior to the 1996 PWA) for which there has been no notice or agreement, would a neighbour be trespassing by entering another persons land in order to raise the height of the wall, i.e, is there any obligation to provide access.
    There are provisions in the 1996 PWA for carrying out works to existing party walls, i.e., building into, notching , raising the height, rebuilding etc,

    There are no provisions stated in the PWA for similar works to an existing wall( built up to line of junction ), would I be correct in assuming works to this type of wall are not envisaged by the 1996PWA are would therefore not be covered by the Party Wall Act?

  7. I have the owner an investor company who has employed builders to completely gut the property adjoining me who is having an extension. They have exposed the fireplace back to bare brick and have noticed 3 steels from my side that have breached their party wall unknown to me as this work was carried out prior to me moving there. They have asked me what am i going to do about it? I have replied saying ‘if the builders can continue unhindered then i suggest they leave them’. If they say they can’t continue unless i cut them back, what are my options please?

  8. A party wall is a “shared wall”, and both sides have rights and obligations when it comes to carrying out works that impact on it. Sounds like you should consult a party wall surveyor, to see whether your neighbour ought to have engaged the party wall process before carrying out its building works and to discuss your options.

  9. I enjoyed reading all this information, however it didn’t cover section 8 right of access,
    I would like to know if section 8 comes into force for my neighbour to erect scaffolding at the rear of my property to build a loft conversion, he has solar panels on the front of his roof so he needs access to my back garden to do the loft work, a party wall award has been given to him to cut into my loft wall only. Is he allowed under the act to have access to my private garden. He has a conservatory on the back of his house that have no foundations and his main sewer drain is under the floor inside his conservatory, he was granted a permitted build for the loft conversion, this is causing me much concern, as to use my back garden for his convenience will disrupt my life completely, as he has a party wall award can I still disagree with giving him rights of access your comments would be greatly appreciated Many thanks

  10. I had a bit of Party Wall trouble with my neighbour and his basement…

    I can highly recommend OSM Chartered Surveyors who helped us settle a dispute with our difficult neighbour who wanted to rush to start without proper care or consideration for our house!

    Things got quite stressful but OSM were very knowledgeable and professional and managed to settle it all with very little fuss.

  11. hi there, i was wondering if you could help me out with a issue i neighbour is building on our party wall without my consent and without getting his planning permission yet?.i put in a new kitchen 20 years ago but because the two kitchens i.e.45 & 46 were jointed by party wall i had to come into my property appox 60 to 70mm from party wall .and dig a deep foundation appox 2 meters because i live on a steep bank.and was thinking on putting on a first floor in the future,. but i attached 46 apex roof to my new wall and i cover all gaps in the party wall to my new wall. but my new neighbour in 46 has taking down old apex roof and start build on old party wall taking up all of the space on the wall and not putting in a new foundation needed because in his planning permission application this is his plan , i would be grateful if you could help me out with this issue.
    kind regards


  12. Hello,

    Looking to see if you can shed some light.
    Looking to purchase a property on the basis that the Seller inserts a new DPC into the ground floor wall (1 metre at the front and rear of property) before completion of the property.
    Am I correct in assuming that a Party Wall Agreement/consent is needed?
    Will I be liable as the incoming building owner for the lack of PW Agreement/consent?

    1. Some works are considered so minor that the PWA 1996 does not need to be engaged. It all depends on the nature of the planned works. You can consult the DCLG explanatory booklet (at section 7) and would be advised to discuss the planned works with a party wall surveyor, to be sure.

      That guide is quite comprehensive and deals with many of the other issues that arise.

  13. My neighbours set fire to their house last year and pretty much destroyed it. They have no roof or first floor now. Our houses are halls adjoining with party wall between the halls snd my party wall was badly damaged by smoke and water from the fire. My house is still uninhabitable as a result and I have not been able to proceed with repair to my house while the party wall on their side remained exposed to the elements. They have now got planning permission to rebuild and have asked me to assent to them cutting into my party wall to insert a new steel roof joist in their roof. They propose making a schedule of the state of the party wall on my side as a marker of its current condition. But this would only reflect its current unrepaired post Fire state. Not it’s original PRE fire state. I have unlimited buildings insurance but my insurer tells me this does not cover party wall issues. I am concerned what might happen if if I got my party wall mended before next door inserted their roof joist and they damaged my newly repaired party wall in the process.

  14. I would avoid agreeing to anything without ensuring your neighbours go through the party wall process (serving the appropriate notice(s)) and you have the opportunity to consult and discuss your concerns with a party wall surveyor. It sounds to me like there may be structural issues that need addressing.

  15. Thanks. These are great guide. Most of the home owners (including myself) aren’t aware of this. This is a valuable piece of information.

  16. Do I need to submit a Party Wall Notice to my neighbour for a re-roof (new roof tiles) to my property.

    1. I’m sure the answer depends on the extent of the work planned. Simply changing roof tiles may not affect walls that are shared with a neighbour and are “party walls”, but doing work to the party walls themselves may trigger the Act’s notification provisions. Even then it is likely to depend on what sort of work to the wall is planned.

  17. My neighbour has issued a PWN and informs me I have to remove and replace my conservatory at a cost of 2-3K. They realise they have to pay but it makes sense to have my adjoining garage roof replaced to and to be aligned with the new conservatory. The builder is willing to do the work and advises I need to offset 2-3K To my neighbour. My cost is then reduced to 7K. I feel I’m being forced to spend money I don’t want to spend but don’t have a choice.

  18. I live on the first floor of a maisonnette. My downstairs neighbour who is currently trying to sue me for damage to his house for some very strange things.

    He is doing some building works to his property downstairs and we have a party wall agreement in place. He removed part of a load bearing wall to replace a window and instead place a door in its place, along with chimney breast removals in two rooms and internal changes, which could effect my house upstairs.

    He is undertaking all these works on his own as he has done so for many years.

    Upon receiving this party wall agreement my only stipulation for these works was that the major structural work to remove the brickwork from the external wall was done using professional builders with structural engineering experience.

    He has however taken out the wall by himself along with all the chimneys.

    Is there anything I can do to make sure the works were carried out correctly?

  19. is there anything you can to when the party wall notice is being used to make extra costa and hinder a development? we want to build a small conservatory on our house and our neighbours abjected because of a right to light because of a small window she has OVERLOOKING our garden. Now they are going through the whole dispute rigmarole just to cause us extra costa and waste time??

    1. If during this period of Coronavirus my neighbours walk down the area they are allowed to come down, 1 metre wide to add extra mortar etc, with no masks, can I object if they have not warned me. I’m one of the ‘extremely vulnerable ‘ people with a respiratory condition. All I’m asking or is for the builders to knock on my door and tell me at approx 6 feet that they are going to work close by my kitchen (where the wall to the extension is) for the next hour for example. My kitchen window is one window that pushes out from the bottom, and a metre measure comes right in the middle of the window. Have I no right to be able to open my window to let in air in these times? I’m not stopping them coming, only to be warned so I can have time to come in from the garden, close my window, door etc. A fence would be useless as it would come in the middle of the window. I’ve not opened that window since October when they started.

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