Icon Surveyors are often asked the following questions:
- Why do I need to serve a Party Wall Notice?
- When do I need to serve the Party Wall Notice?
- How do I serve the Party Wall Notice?
Here Icon Surveyors discuss "Why, When and How" to serve the Party Wall Notice...
Why do I Need to Serve a Party Wall Notice?
In answer to the first question; all land in England is apportioned. In other words, it is divided up and shared between landowners. Therefore, each piece of land has boundary lines belonging to two or more different owners. This is commonly termed as a ‘Party Wall’. Thus, any landowner who intends to carry out work on their property that has the potential to affect an adjoining owner’s property is legally obliged, under the provisions of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, to serve a ‘Party Wall Notice’ on the adjoining owner.
There are two types of land ownership in England, these are Leasehold and Freehold. The latter qualifies the holder to absolute ownership of the land, whereas the former, equates to either a parcel or the whole of the freeholder’s land being granted to another for a specified period of time. The term of a Leasehold property can run from 7 years up to 999 years. Though for properties granted leasehold ownership rights in England, the average term is circa 125 years.
The type of ownership rights you have acquired are recorded on both your ‘Title Deeds’ and at the ‘Land Registry’. A title deed contains the terms and conditions of the ownership, an example of which would be, the rights to build on the land or alter the acquired structures, and, who the liability for any repairs lies with. Nowadays, a large portion of property ownership is acquired by way of a mortgage and the original title deeds are retained by the originator of a mortgage agreement as a security for the monies borrowed. For this reason, whether you are a freehold or leasehold landowner, it would be both wise and helpful to ensure you have a copy of the ‘title deeds’ and any mortgage agreement that may have been entered into.
When do I Need to Serve the Party Wall Notice?
In answer to question two, Icon Surveyors would suggest that a prudent owner will always seek to serve a Party Wall Notice at the earliest opportunity. The fundamental reason for early service is to ensure that unnecessary delays to the commencement of any works being carried out, is minimized. In any event, the Party Wall Notice must be served on the adjoining owner(s) at least one month prior to any works commencing.
Depending on the complexity of the work’s being carried out, the adjoining owner(s) response and any other appointed surveyor’s disposition to matters being raised, Party Wall Procedures can take as little a one week or as long as six months to complete. Most owners are inclined to wait until either planning or development permissions have been granted. Whilst this may appear to be more cost-effective in the short term, unless the building owner abandons the project, be it as a result of the refusal of planning/development permissions or otherwise, delaying the party wall procedure is more likely than not to add to costs in the long term.
In accordance with the figures as provided by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, during the last quarter of 2019, 87% of planning/development applications made in England, were granted. Many applications that were declined had been refused on the grounds that amendments to the build and/or design needed to be carried out and resubmitted. Thus, a delay in the commencement of any works will occur.
Experience tells us that building owners and/or their teams often disregard the importance of the Party Wall procedure when planning a building project. This has in the past resulted in the time between the grant of permissions and the build being delayed by a period of six months. For this reason, Icon Surveyors believe that it is more beneficial to a building owner to serve a Party Wall Notice at the earliest opportunity.
How do I Serve the Party Wall Notice?
With regard to the final question, in accordance with the Act, a party wall notice can be served by a building owner or a party wall surveyor. A building owner might be enticed by the thought of any initial savings to costs, by serving the notice themselves. However, as will be seen below, like all legislative provisions, there are many pitfalls a building or adjoining owner is liable to fall into.
The first consideration is that of the Party Wall Notice information that is legally required to be given to all adjoining owners, such as giving notice of the intended works to all of the relevant parties in a timely manner or providing all of the requisite structural or other relevant details needed in order to comply with the provisions under the Act. Failure to include all of the required details will render the notice invalid. Thus, causing unnecessary delays and, additional costs.
The second consideration is that of an adjoining owner’s disposition regarding their response to the Notice. There are two things an adjoining owner can do, these are to either agree to the works being carried out or reject the notice. If the adjoining neighbour agrees to the works being carried out they have 14 days after service to respond in writing. In this situation, a Party Wall Award is not required. However, in order to protect all affected parties from any future disputes that may arise as a result of damage or structural movement, Icon Surveyors would recommend that a schedule of conditions is compiled and shared with the relevant parties. This is a document that records the condition of the properties/land before any works are carried out. Again, if the affected parties fail to record the relevant details that are required to resolve any future disputes, the costs that may fall onto the affected parties could be extortionate. For the above-stated reasons, Icon Surveyors would advise that you seek professional help from an experienced Party Wall Surveyor.
If on the other hand any of the affected owners disagree with any of the projects given details and/or the whole project, they are required to notify you of their response within 14 days. If an adjoining owner fails to fulfil their obligations, the Act requires that an agreed surveyor be appointed. If a dispute arises as to the appointment of an agreed surveyor, the adjoining owner has the legal right to appoint their own surveyor, the costs for which are the responsibility of the building owner.
Having agreed to the appointment of a surveyor or two, as the case may be, a Party Wall Agreement will be prepared. Once the details of the agreement have been agreed by the affected parties, the Surveyor(s) will begin preparing the Party Wall Award.
It should be noted that under the Act, construction works are prohibited from commencing for a period of 2 months and 1 day after you have received written permission from your adjoining owner or an award has been agreed between the owners and/or their respective surveyor(s). If however, excavation works are being carried out, the prohibition period ends after 1 month and 1 day. In addition, all owners should be aware of the fact that any works need to commence within 1 year of the Party Wall procedure being completed.
For all of the above-stated reasons, Icon Surveyors believe that it is more beneficial to a building owner to serve a Party Wall Notice at the earliest opportunity, as prevention is, in our experience, far less costly than any cure!
If you or any of your adjoining neighbours are planning any building works in the near future, or you have any questions concerning any current works that are taking place, Icon Surveyors would be happy to hear from you.