In urbanised areas it is frequently the case that buildings are constructed next to one another. They may be physically linked, sharing a common wall or partition, or simply abut one another. With thousands of homes being built in terraces or as semi-detached across the country, this is a very regular occurrence. Even if not actually joined, buildings can still be constructed close to each other.
In these situations when building works are planned, the parties on either side have a right to legal protection – and share some obligations as to the way they behave. The Party Wall Act 1966 aims to manage disputes by setting out these requirements that cover building works including structural changes, digging near foundations and so on. The Act does not cover minor works such as electrical installations, putting up brackets or shelving, or replastering. However, it does cover cutting in to support a beam when removing walls, installing a damp proof course, underpinning and – important when considering a domestic extension or conservatory - excavating for new foundations within three metres (or sometime six metres) of a neighbour's property.
A neighbour has the legal responsibility to give written notice of proposed works, though it is generally accepted that an initial conversation is helpful. Written agreement must be given.
Where a neighbour does not agree in writing with any proposals for building work, the act provides for surveyors to be appointed, to ensure that works are undertaken correctly and will not cause damage to the other party. A document called a Party Wall Award is drawn up, noting the existing condition of buildings on the other side of the party wall or structure, the work to be carried out, and who has financial responsibility for the works and any consequential damages that might be incurred.
So, whether you are planning works to (or near) a party wall, or find that your neighbours are considering such work, it is advisable to appoint a professionally qualified building surveyor to act on your behalf at the outset. A professional will be able to save time and money by advising on the correct procedure prior to commencing the work, and on the best methods of construction to use; this latter area can often reduce the inconvenience to neighbours by opting for a less intrusive solution.