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Five reasons why party wall agreements are essential

The laws surrounding party walls are set out in the Party Wall Act of 1996. It details how neighbours sharing building or land boundaries should proceed with any modifications or maintenance work.

The Act only applies to England and Wales. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, common law courts solve party wall disputes.

In essence, it’s about getting your neighbour’s permission to modify any boundaries (usually walls, fences, ceilings or floors) you might share.

This article will explain what party wall agreements are, why they’re so essential, and how a party wall surveyor could help.

What is a party wall?

A party wall is the technical term for a structure (or, more accurately, a boundary) shared between two separate properties. Technically, they could also include garden fences or even the imaginary boundary line splitting your front lawn from your neighbour’s.

For example, if multiple flats are on a floor of a high-rise building, they’ll each probably share walls with their neighbours. The floors and ceilings will, of course, also be shared. Terraced houses have two party walls, whereas semi-detached properties generally have only one.

An important aspect of party walls is their added insulation and soundproofing. These additions help to accommodate the privacy of individual residents within the larger building while reducing the impact of any noisy neighbours.

As a final note, party walls are often also firewalls – that is, they’re built from non-combustible materials. Suppose a fire were to break out in a flat, for example. In that case, the party walls/firewalls should contain the flames within the individual unit. This is great for minimising the risk to life and fire damage.

What is a party wall agreement?

The ownership of a party wall – that is, who’s responsible for its maintenance and repair – can become a source of conflict with your neighbours.

Traditionally, you’ll both own half of the boundary you share.

When you want to do some work on this shared boundary, you’ll need your neighbour’s agreement. That way, you can avoid falling out with your neighbours and any messy legal situations.

A party wall agreement is a legally binding contract between two or more parties. It details what work will be done, when, and how the risks to either property will be minimised.

For example, you’ll need a party wall agreement when installing beam bearings or demolishing and reconstructing the entire wall.

You won’t need a party wall agreement for minor work, such as electrical socket installation or hanging shelves.

For more information about party wall agreements, see our recent blog, What is a party wall agreement?

Five reasons why party wall agreements are essential

Before starting any work on a shared wall, you should always have a party wall agreement in place.

Here are five reasons why:

Party wall agreements help you avoid any financial potholes

If you start work on a party wall without your neighbours’ consent, they could open up a case against you. This would force any work to a sudden halt until a party wall agreement was reached.

The following costs could be added to the job:

  • Compensation for neighbours
  • Compensation for the builder
  • Any costs associated with the party wall agreement itself.

On top of these, you’ll be stuck with a half-finished wall for however long the neighbour continues with their case.

It keeps the neighbours happy

Following up with your neighbours about any work you’re doing shows you’re open to working with them and value that they live next door.

Happy neighbours are much easier to get along with and should make the whole process of getting a party wall agreement much simpler.

If your neighbours like making trouble for you and you suspect they’ll cause an issue, a party wall agreement is even more critical. You may have to offer additional incentives for them to agree to the work, but it’s much better to do it this way than risk a lawsuit in the future.

Ethics

Morally, it’s essential to get your neighbour’s permission before modifying the shared wall.

Remember, they own half of it, and they want to be sure that the work you’re doing won’t affect their quality of life.

While, of course, your planned work shouldn’t ever venture into their property, the agreement might set out who’s responsible for any damage that might occur during the building and how to minimise certain risks.

Noise complaints

Party walls usually contain extra insulation and soundproofing materials. That being said, when work is carried out, the noise will undoubtedly carry over into your neighbour’s house or flat.

To avoid upsetting them or leading to your neighbour serving an injunction, a party wall agreement sets out the times of day work will be done. For example, if they work an early shift, you might agree for all work to cease by 1pm each day.

As long as you comply with the Act, your work can go ahead

Provided you comply with the law, your neighbours can’t actually stop any work going ahead.

Hopefully, a party wall agreement means you and those who live next door can agree on the work that needs doing.

If they refuse to cooperate, you’ll have to organise specialist party wall surveyors to come out (at your own expense) and survey both properties. You can use the same surveyor for both you and your neighbours, as long as they agree to it. However, they’re also entitled to recruit their own surveyor (you’ll still have to pay for it).

These surveyors are independent of either owner – they work to uphold the law rather than make a case for a client. As such, the result should be the surveyor’s unbiased opinion about what’s best.

Hopefully, the surveyor(s) will agree that the work either should or shouldn’t go ahead. If, in the rare case that two surveyors disagree, you’ll need to enlist a third surveyor for the final vote.

If, after all this, the surveyor gives you permission to go ahead, you may.

Importance of party wall surveyors

Party wall surveyors are also usually regulated by RICS. As mentioned above, they are vital if you reach a disagreement with a neighbour.

They’re optional but recommended in the earlier stages of a party wall agreement.

You can draft and issue your own party wall agreement perfectly legally. As long as you and your neighbour agree to it in writing, it’s a legally binding contract. However, getting an agreement assessed and written up by a party wall surveyor will give everyone greater reassurance that any future disputes can be fairly resolved.

Let GB Home Surveys help

If you’re drawing up plans for any work on shared boundaries, you’re very welcome to get in touch with us for an informal chat about your plans. For more information about party wall agreements or to have an expert look over what you plan to do, you can email us at contact@gbhomesurveys.co.uk, or give us a call on 03333 600 685.

Why you need a party wall surveyor

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