Renovating to Sell? Beware the Party Wall Act
Tue 03 Nov 2020
If you are renovating a property in Warrington before sale, you need to be aware of the impact of the Party Wall Act and the implications for you if you don’t follow the rules. A Party Wall is a wall which sits on the boundary between two properties and includes:
- The wall between two terraced houses
- The middle wall in a pair of semis
- The boundary wall between two gardens
- The horizontal “wall” between floors in a block of flats. Here it is called a Party Structure, but the rules still apply.
If you live in England or Wales and you are doing works to your property and you share a wall (or structure) you probably need to serve a Party Wall Notice on your neighbour. The process is meant to stop disputes, but is also to help people resolve them if they do arise. Works include:
- Any work to the wall between terraced and semi-detached houses
- Any work to a shared “party structure”
- Any work to boundary walls
- Excavation works or underpinning within 6 metres of the party wall
- Loft conversions that mean cutting into a party wall
- Inserting a damp proof course into a party wall
- Making the party wall thicker or higher
- Building a second storey extension above a party wall
The Notice must include full details of the works you are doing, give your neighbour at least two months’ notice of the works starting and say what, if any, access you need across their property to get the works completed.
Works that don’t need a Party Wall Notice:
- Drilling into the wall internally to fit kitchen units or shelving
- Having the wall plastered
- Adding or replacing electrical wiring or sockets
Once you have the specification of work from your builder, or a list of the works if you are doing them yourself, you should write to your neighbour and make it clear that this is a Party Wall Notice.
They will either write back and say they are OK with everything, write back and say they don’t agree (and maybe say why), or not respond at all.
If either of the latter two, then you will need to appoint a Party Wall surveyor to represent both of you. The surveyor draws up the Award (see below). It is important to note that although the Party Wall Surveyor is instructed by your neighbour, they are not acting for you. Their role is the protect the Party Wall or Structure and they answer only to the Courts.
Your neighbour can have a different Party Wall Surveyor if you wish, the only downside to this process is that you will pay both lots of fees.
What is the Party Wall Award?
The Award is a basically description of the works, how they will be carried out and who pays the surveyor’s fees, which in this case will be you.
Why would I bother with the Party Wall Notice?
There are many occasions when people just get on with works, don’t bother serving the Notice and hope that everything goes smoothly and the works are finished before anyone has a chance to do anything about it. Some people are just averse to paying professional fees!
Once the works are completed there is nothing neighbours can do about the Notice or an Award, the rules are not retrospective. But there are advantages to you in having an Award in place:
- It massively reduces the risk of disputes as the works are done.
- Everyone has agreed upfront what the works will be and how they will be done.
- If you need access across your neighbour’s property, whether that is garden, roof, or to put scaffolding up on their property, the Award will give you the right to do so.
- If your builder damages their property during the works the Courts take a dim view if you have failed to serve Notice and put an Award in place. They have a good chance of successfully suing you for damages (and trespass if you have accessed via their property without consent). If there is an Award in place then it gives you more protection and the Party Wall Surveyor/s should be able to resolve any disputes along the way.
There is of course a lot more in the detail but if you start work and your neighbours know nothing about it, they may come and talk to you and you can sort it out amicably. On the other hand they might just go straight to their solicitor and get an injunction to force you to stop work.
The cost of that could put your profit in jeopardy.
So don’t take the risk, get a Party Wall Notice served and crack on!