Resolving a building dispute over a party wall

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Guidance on keeping on the right side of the law – and your neighbours

The Party Wall Act aims to provide a mechanism to prevent or resolve disputes between neighbours who are squabbling over work being done to a shared wall, or when excavations on a property might adversely affect a neighbouring building.

What are your rights and responsibilities under the Party Wall Act?

The Party Wall Act provides a statutory code which comes into play where you want to carry out work on your property that could affect an adjoining homeowner. This would include building on the boundary of your property and the adjoining property; carrying out works which affects an existing party wall or structure; or excavating close to an adjoining building.

The Act gives you a statutory right to carry out any of the works listed in Section 2, with some of the most commonly used rights being to:

  • repair a party wall;
  • demolish and rebuild a faulty party wall;
  • insert a damp-proof course or flashing;
  • underpin a party wall;
  • cut into a party wall to support a beam;
  • raise the height of a party wall (e.g., to add an extra storey), or extend it downwards (e.g., to build a basement); or
  • remove a projection from a party wall, such as a chimney breast.

Between 14 and 28 days (depending on the work proposed) before you start any such work, you need to send or give a party wall notice to all adjoining owners and get them to sign a party wall agreement. The notice should outline when and how the building works will be carried out, how the party wall will be accessed, and it should include a condition report which sets out evidence of the state the adjoining properties are in before you begin work.

Your neighbour may refuse to sign the party wall agreement, but this does not mean that the work cannot go ahead. They may, for example, be willing to sign if you agree to change your plans, such as limiting the hours that work can be conducted, using a quieter way of carrying out the job, or allowing the party wall agreement and condition report to be prepared by a surveyor.

If they point-blank refuse to sign, despite suggested compromises, do not press ahead with the work regardless – if you do, your neighbour can get an injunction to stop the work until the dispute is resolved. Instead, you should appoint a party wall surveyor who will work with you and your neighbour to settle the dispute and issue a party wall award outlining his or her decision. This will set out the present condition of the party wall, the work to be carried out, the safeguards needed to protect adjacent properties, timescales for every phase of the work, and rules regarding the surveyor’s building inspection

As long as your planned work is lawful and you abide by the Party Wall Act, you should then be able to go ahead, although either party can appeal against the award to the county court. This must be done within 14 days of receiving the award documents from the party wall surveyor. The court can change or overturn the award, or allow the decision to stand.

Under the Act, you must:

  • not cause unnecessary inconvenience to your neighbours while the building work is in progress;
  • provide temporary protection for adjoining buildings and property where necessary; and
  • make good any damage caused by the works or make payment in lieu of making good.

Common causes of a party wall dispute

While a neighbour refusing to sign the party wall agreement is the most common form of party wall dispute, disagreements arise for other reasons including:

  • unwarranted intrusion onto the neighbouring land;
  • excessive noise;
  • unsociable work hours; or
  • whether the works caused the damage to the adjacent property.

Cause of damage and the Taylor case

The issue of cause of damage was recently considered by the Court of Appeal in the Taylor case.

Mr Taylor, having correctly followed the Party Wall Act procedure, carried out work on his garden which caused the rear wall of the two adjoining properties to drop by about 2mm. However, because of major pre-existing defects to the respondents’ properties, this caused the neighbours’ internal walls and floor slabs to drop by 40mm.

The damage caused by the works could not be fixed without also repairing the pre-existing problems (underpinning a wall and filling a void under the floor slabs). A surveyor’s award, under the 1996 Act, required Taylor to pay for both the damage he had caused and the subsequent damage, even though it was agreed that any slight movement could have caused substantial damage at any time.

Taylor appealed to the county court, which confirmed Taylor was liable to pay compensation, but reduced the amount to 75% because the neighbours had failed to mitigate their losses. Crucially, it still held that Taylor should pay towards repairing the pre-existing problems. Taylor then took this to the Court of Appeal, which overturned that part of the judgment, holding that Taylor was not responsible for paying to fix the long-standing defects as they were not caused by his works – the defects had merely been brought to light by his works. The appeal court sent the case back to the county court for a reassessment of costs.

How we can help

If you have issues over building works related to a party wall, contact our team of legal experts today. We can help negotiate with your neighbours to try and settle the dispute amicably, draw up or review a party wall agreement, or handle your case if the matter needs to go to court.

For further information, please contact Norman Hunter-Goulder in the dispute resolution team on 01480 702207 or email [email protected].  

Norman Hunter-Goulder LLB, Senior Associate

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