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Buying a property? Don’t forget about the Party Wall Act 1996

When buying a property, the Commercial Property Standard Enquiries (CPSE.1) (enquiries 1.3 and 2) provide standard form, specific enquiries about party walls. However, those enquiries only ask about breaches of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (PWA 1996) relating to party structures on the boundary of the site, and to provide copies of any notices, awards and agreements that might exist in connection with those party structures. The answers to those enquiries will not provide any illumination as to works yet to be carried out, or liabilities and expenses that are still to accrue following a sale of the land.

If the PWA 1996 may apply to works that have been or are in the process of being carried out (or are planned), what should a buyer be looking out for?

First, some basics

The rights granted under the PWA 1996 are personal to the original parties, that is to the original building owner (who exercised his rights under the PWA 1996 and served a party wall notice), and the original adjoining owner (who received the notice and had the option of consenting to the works, serving a counter notice or triggering a dispute).

When the PWA 1996 applies to works a buyer wants to carry out

A buyer with the benefit of a contract for sale of the building owner’s land can say that he is sufficiently “desirous of exercising rights under the Act” to be a building owner  (section 20, PWA 1996). As such he can serve a valid party wall notice on an adjoining owner before the transfer is completed. The subsequent transfer will not invalidate the notice.

In the absence of a contract for sale, the seller and buyer could serve a party wall notice in their joint names, so that the building owner’s rights following the notice would also benefit the buyer once he has purchased the building owner’s interest. If the parties do so, they should agree (in writing) how liabilities under the PWA 1996 will be carved up. That is, if the party wall procedure obliges the building owner to pay compensation to the adjoining owner or to pay the party wall surveyor’s fees, the buyer and seller should ensure that the buyer (who is carrying out the works for his own benefit) picks up the majority of that liability.

What if the adjoining owner has consented to the works?

If the works fall within section 2 of the PWA 1996 (repair of a party wall), the building owner can dispense with the statutory notice and award procedures if he obtains the adjoining owner’s written consent to the works (section 3(3), PWA 1996). If the adjoining owner has consented, this raises the question of whether a buyer of the building owner’s interest can rely on that consent and carry out the works without having to serve a fresh notice.

The PWA 1996 is silent on whether consent is transferrable, but the sensible answer must be to assume the consent is personal to the seller (the building owner) and to get the buyer to seek consent again on the same terms. Assuming that the neighbour (the adjoining owner) found the proposals unobjectionable once, he will probably consent again.

What happens if the property is already subject to PWA 1996 procedures?

There are two aspects to this: buying from the building owner and buying from the adjoining owner.

Buying from the building owner

Broadly speaking, liabilities can arise in two ways:

  • Under section 7 of the PWA 1996, to pay fees and pay compensation to the adjoining owner.
  • At common law, liability for damages and costs may arise out of works carried out contrary to the terms of an award or notice, or if works are carried out without complying with the PWA 1996.

A party wall surveyor may award compensation to the adjoining owner for unnecessary inconvenience and (it is generally accepted) all economic and physical damage arising out of works carried out in compliance with an award, whether that loss arises in the course of the works or once they have been completed.

Because PWA 1996 rights and liabilities are personal to the original parties, the party wall surveyor can only order the building owner named in the original PWA 1996 notice and award to pay compensation. Unless the buyer was a party to the original notice or had contracted to indemnify the outgoing building owner for compensation payments arising after the date of sale, he should be able to buy the property free from this liability.

If the building owner’s works have departed from the PWA 1996 procedure to the physical or economic detriment of the adjoining owner, the common law principles of nuisance, trespass and breach of statutory duty come into play. The key question is whether the incident giving rise to the loss was a one-off or an ongoing tort:

  • Liability for losses caused by a one-off incident (such as works that are in themselves a nuisance but are completed before the building owner sells his property) is likely to rest with the building owner who carried out the offending works.
  • Liability to rectify a trespass (such as building a wall on the adjoining owner’s land so as to create a permanent trespass) and pay damages to the adjoining owner may rest with whoever owns the building owner’s land from time to time.

If the party wall surveyor has not finalised his award, the buyer should obtain an indemnity from the seller for any trespass and ongoing liability that might subsequently arise out of works carried out unlawfully.

Buying from an adjoining owner

Anyone buying property from an adjoining owner where party wall works are ongoing should ensure that they agree to apportion the compensation awarded by the party wall surveyor (under section 7 of the PWA 1996) in his final award.

If, on buying the land of the adjoining owner, the buyer discovers that the building owner’s works breached the PWA 1996 and caused damage and loss, the new adjoining owner will be able to rely on common law remedies to recover its losses.

25 thoughts on “Buying a property? Don’t forget about the Party Wall Act 1996

  1. Tim,

    We are planning a loft extension. Our neighbour has instructed a rogue surveying company to act on their behalf (the internet is littered with bad stories about them).

    We’re hoping that we can find a way for the neighbour to replace this rogue firm with a legitimate firm. There are two avenues that I hope might help with this, but would appreciate your expert view.

    1. The original notice was served to the neighbour almost a year ago. Will this notice expire after 12 months, and therefore become void?

    2. The neighbour may be selling. Presumably the contract between the surveyor and our neighbour will cease at the point that the property changes hands (giving the opportunity for us to work with the new neighbour)?

    Many thanks

  2. Although we cannot provide advice through the blog, you are correct that the original party wall notice will expire. Regardless of which notice is served under the PWA 1996, the relevant works must begin within 12 months. Also, if the property is sold, you will have to start the party wall process again with the new adjoining owner. That adjoining owner will be free to appoint its own surveyor or agree to a joint appointment of your surveyor.

  3. Is a party wall agreement in a town home automatically transferred to the new owner when the property is sold?
    Is a party wall agreement required to be disclosed at the time of sale, to the buyer?
    My adjoining neighbor informed me that they had a party wall agreement with the previous owner of my property, allowing specific parking space in our driveway.
    We have no association or board directing.
    No documentation or disclosure occurred during my purchase.
    I was informed a few years after buying, during random discussion with my adjoining neighbor.
    Thank You.

  4. While we cannot answer specific queries on the blog, we address some of your questions in the above piece (such as the non-transfer of the agreement and disclosure at the time of sale).

    It is worth remembering that the PWA 1996 is a piece of legislation that allows parties to carry out works to a party wall (or excavate within set distances from foundations), it is not designed to determine access or ownership rights. In that respect, I cannot see how an agreement entered into several years ago between previous owners can affect a parking space (other than when works were carried out in the vicinity of the parking space).

  5. hi just brought a ground floor flat, need to higher the lintels above doors and move a small wall, create a new door way. take out a stair case and make good ceiling floor.

    the stair case goes from mine and the last step is in the upstairs flat (used to be one house)

    the problem is the flat above me is under offer, do I wait until I find out who the new owners are, or do I submit a PWA now,

    I have to notify the management company, im part of it and the flat above which is under offer.

    whats the best and cheapest way forward please, I need a structural engineer for drawings and a surveyor for the act I think

    many thanks


    1. Hi Dominic

      As we say above, we can’t provide advice to specific queries on the blog. Many of the issues that arise in a situation such as the one you describe are detailed in Tim’s original post (even if it is written from the building owner’s perspective). If time is not an issue for you to carry out the works, you may feel that waiting until there is a new adjoining owner is the prudent thing to do.

      The RICS has a helpline that offers advice on party wall issues, which may be of assistance.

  6. Hi,

    We are just about to serve the Party Wall Notice to our adjoining neighbour with regards to our loft conversion. The loft conversion falls within permitted development and does not need planning permission but obviously all the work will be needed to conform to building regulations. Our adjoining neighbour’s house has just gone under offer. What happens if they do not consent and then try to string it out so no Award is agreed before they exchange contracts with their buyer, would we have to issue a Party Wall Notice to the new owners and are our curent neighbours the owner until just the exchange of contracts with their buyer or only on completion?

    Many thanks


  7. As we say above, we can’t provide advice to specific queries on the blog. However, you may find some of the information in Blog post, Introduction to party wall issues, helpful, particularly the sections near the end of the piece. As you will see, the Party Wall Act 1996 does provide a procedure in circumstances where the adjoining owner fails to respond to a party wall notice or is slow in responding. We also provide more information in Practice note, The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (PWA 1996): Section 10 dispute resolution procedure.

  8. Hi,

    Our neighbours are planning to start building a rear ground floor extension. We know a party wall agreement is needed as their foundations will be less than 3m away from our property. Our first thought was to allow them to build their extension without having to get a party wall surveyor involved but now I’m concerned that not having a party wall agreement in place could be an issue when we sell our house. Can you please advise?

    Many thanks,


  9. Michelle,

    I understand that you cannot give legal advice. However, I was wondering if you could give some practical tips? We are almost ready to exchange on a house purchase that has an extension. All building regs and planning consents were complied with but it appears the seller did not serve the party wall notices or cannot find copies of these docs (or the consent). Is this an insurmountable problem for me as a buyer? I am considering pulling out especially as I worry about how easy / difficult it may be if I wanted to sell the house in the future.

    Must be a common problem.

    Kind regards

  10. Hi,
    I am about to build a ground floor extension and the wall will be built up to the adjoining neighbors wall. I have been advised by my surveyor that I have to pay for part of the construction of my neighbors wall. I believe the wall my neighbors have built is over the boundary line of my property. My question is do I have to pay for the construction of their wall and what if they have built over the boundary?

  11. As we say above, we can’t provide advice to specific queries on the blog.

    Your surveyor may be correct and you will be responsible for the costs you refer to. The PWA 1996 deals with this in sections 10 and 11, as we explain in Practice note, The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (PWA 1996): Payments under the PWA 1996.

    The RICS has a helpline that offers advice on party wall issues, which may also be of assistance.

    Boundary issues are complex and are discussed in Practice note, Boundaries and boundary rules. It is also worth considering the issues raised in Relationship with law of trespass and private nuisance.

  12. Hi Guys,

    I am hoping someone may be able to offer some advice. I am at the end of a long drawn out Party Wall Award. The works is finished, however the Adjoining Owners Surveyor will not attend the final inspection without further payment for his time – yet the contract clearly states the original fee includes a final site visit.

    Can you offer any advice on where I stand? Or if not where I can go for help?

    I do not think I should be obliged to pay this (claiming another £1000 before he will turn up).

    It appears the neighbour has been communicating with him a lot during this time, and he wants me to pay for this time?

    Any help very much appreciated.

    Kind regards

  13. I should be grateful if you could confirm my understanding of the following.

    We are purchasing from the building owner who has carried out work which is subject to PWA 1996 procedures but has ignored them.

    In these circumstances I understand that liability for the purchaser may arise in Common Law for damages and costs out of works carried out by the building owner where the PWA 1996 has not been complied with.

    I appreciate that the PWA 1996 rights and liabilities are personal to the original parties to a PWA agreement but am I right that in this case where the PWA 1996 has been ignored, I will have a liability under Common Law after my purchase for any physical damage that may arise in the future from the works carried out by the building owner and the building owner by ignoring the PWA 1996 procedures will escape liability. In these circumstances is there the possibility of indemnity insurance being applicable.
    Thanking you for your help.

  14. We are about to buy a property but our surveyor has pointed out a previously built extension has been built on the boundary line with the guttering actually over the boundary into the neighbours garden. What is the best way to proceed under these circumstances?

  15. Hi,

    We are selling our semi detached house which we renovated in 2013. All structural works were completed by July 2013, and we finally moved in during November 2013 when internal works (electrics, plumbing, plastering, decorating etc) were finished.

    We never had a party wall agreement with our neighbour at that time as we were a bit naive and got on very well with our neighbour who was also renovating their property. Indeed our neighbour was just happy to share the cost of work that benefited both properties such as building a fire retaining wall in the loft and having the top of the chimney rebuilt.

    Our neighbour during the building works sold their property after their renovation was complete and our new neighbours moved in to the property at the same time as us in November 2013 after all building works were finished to both properties. We have a great relationship with the current neighbours and have never had any issues from any of the works carried out.

    Now we are selling our buyer has asked whether we have a party wall agreement, which we do not.

    The works were carried out five and a half years ago and once our sale is complete neither our buyer or the existing neighbour were owners/occupiers at the time works were carried out. Is there anything that we should have in place with respect to party wall agreements that would protect our buyer that we have overlooked? Or would any agreement be irrelevant now due to the passage of time and change of owners?

    Many thanks.

  16. It is arguable that a party wall award was unnecessary in the circumstances, since the works were carried out by agreement between the parties. Even if you could enter into an award retrospectively, there is very little benefit in doing so now as the works are complete. As Tim says in his post:

    “… rights granted under the PWA 1996 are personal to the original parties, that is to the original building owner (who exercised his rights under the PWA 1996 and served a party wall notice), and the original adjoining owner (who received the notice and had the option of consenting to the works, serving a counter notice or triggering a dispute).”

  17. My neighbours a lawyer and a RICS building surveyor did not serve us the mandatory notices under the PWA 1996. They cut down 3 of our trees and refused to listen to our complaints. We appointed a PW surveyor who confirmed the building would trespass onto our land by 1m. They then agreed to pay his fees, we would give them the land and they would pay all damages and be liable for the remaining hedge. They confirmed they were conforming to all building regulations and conditions of build. Once the building was in situ they refused to pay for the damage and stated we would be liable for the trees that their own tree expert states are now unstable. They offered us £3,500 for these trees and took further land. We are told as the Agreement was subject to contract but she did not give us the document to sign it is invalid. We want either the promised indemnity against the remaining trees (We are not able to replant the removed trees as promised as they are too close to the building but further away than the remaining trees at 20-80cms from building)or the hedge to be removed and we accept we will have to have a smaller hedge further into our land.Both options they refuse. After 4 years we still have not settled our differences as they have employed a surveyor who states there is no trespass as he is willing to ignore all the evidence.The trespass is small but why should I be left with dangerous trees and why should I allow them to renege on the Agreement and take further land?Particularly for her law firm to state I cannot refer to the Agreement as it was without prejudice. An Agreement partially acted upon, us giving them the land, them paying for an Agreed new boundary and then once it is a fait accompli to take further land and demand another new boundary. Cost to us so far £8,000 in expert advice, no sleep in 4 years and extreme ill health. They are still coming into my garden and moving the fences so I am unable to use my garden.

  18. We are buying a property (about to exchange) and have found out that the adjoining owners have an Award in place with the current owners. We are concerned that if anything happens the property during the works which are due to take place before completion, that we will have no recourse should any damage occur.
    The neighbour’s surveyor says it would be unfair to make them start the process again and have the award issued to us (indeed, they will likely have the works completed post exchange but pre completion). Can you point us in the direction of where we might ensure we are protected if damage does occur? Thankyou

  19. Who owns a party outside garden wall when you have purchase the house, and the wall is attached to your property.

  20. HI

    I have just bought a property and the mortgage company have put a restriction of £2000 on the party wall in the loft. i have not got the house and there is a wall there, but the old owner did not get i presume proper building regualtions is maybe all i need to remove the restiction?

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