Party wall agreements are an often overlooked but crucial aspect of purchasing property in the UK. These legal instruments govern how certain works can be carried out in close proximity to adjoining properties, ensuring that neighbours are protected from potential damage or disruption.
This article aims to shed light on the essentials of party wall agreements, providing property buyers with the knowledge they need to navigate these sometimes complex legal waters.
Understanding Party Wall Agreements
A party wall agreement, also known as a party wall award, is a legal requirement under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 in England and Wales. It is a written contract between two or more property owners where there exists a wall or structure shared between the properties, such as the walls between semi-detached houses or terraced properties.
The agreement outlines the rights and obligations of each party when one wants to carry out building work that affects the shared wall or structure.
When Do You Need a Party Wall Agreement?
There are specific conditions under which a party wall agreement is required:
- Constructing a new wall or structure on or at the boundary of two properties.
- Carrying out work to an existing party wall or party structure.
- Excavating within three to six metres of an adjoining building, depending on the depth of the new foundations compared to the neighbours’.
Selecting a Party Wall Surveyor
A party wall surveyor is a professional who specialises in dealing with party wall matters. It’s vital to select a surveyor with expertise in this area. In some cases, each property owner may appoint their own surveyor, while in others, they might mutually agree on one surveyor to act impartially for both parties.
Understanding How Costs Are Shared
The costs of a party wall agreement and the associated work are typically borne by the person carrying out the building works. This includes the neighbours’ surveyor fees if they require separate representation. It’s essential to factor these potential costs into your budget when planning any building work that may impact a shared wall or structure.
Rights and Responsibilities of Property Owners
Property owners have rights and responsibilities under the Party Wall etc. Act. They must ensure that the works are carried out without unnecessary inconvenience to the adjoining owners and must repair any damage caused by the works. Neighbouring owners must not be unduly obstructive and should allow access for the works to be completed.
The Consequences of Not Complying with a Party Wall Agreement
Failure to comply with the Party Wall, etc. Act or a party wall agreement can have serious repercussions, including legal disputes and the possibility of having to halt construction. It can lead to additional costs and time delays, highlighting the importance of following the correct procedures from the outset.
Identifying Potential Party Wall Matters Before Purchase
Before purchasing a property, it’s prudent to identify any potential party wall matters. If the current owner has carried out any work that should have had a party wall agreement in place but didn’t, you may inherit future disputes. A thorough check with the assistance of a solicitor or a party wall surveyor can help avoid such complications.
The Process of Serving a Party Wall Notice
When you intend to carry out work that falls under the Party Wall etc. Act, you must serve a party wall notice on your neighbours a minimum of two months before the start of the work (or one month for excavation works). This gives your neighbours the chance to agree to the works or dispute them, which can lead to the requirement of a party wall agreement.
You can download those free party wall agreement templates you can personalise:
Factors to Consider for a Smooth Party Wall Process
Clear communication and understanding between neighbours are vital for a smooth party wall process. Obtaining professional advice is crucial, as is being mindful of timing, particularly as neighbours are entitled to statutory response periods. Investigating any potential unforeseen delays or disputes may impact your building plans is also sensible.
The Impact of Party Wall Agreements on Future Property Modifications
If you’re considering purchasing a property and anticipate making future modifications that may affect a party wall, it is essential to understand the implications of such agreements. Planning and budgeting for the party wall process will be integral to your property renovation or development plans.
The Role of Party Wall Agreements in Maintaining Neighbourly Relations
Maintaining good relations with your neighbours is often overlooked but is an important part of the party wall process. A party wall agreement should be seen as a legal requirement and a tool for fostering good communication and avoiding disputes with your neighbours.
The Bottom Line
Party wall agreements are an essential element of property ownership in the UK. Understanding these agreements can save you time, money, and stress as a prospective property buyer. By anticipating and navigating these legal requirements adeptly, you can enjoy your new property while maintaining amicable relations with your neighbours.
Before any building work is undertaken, considering the impact on any shared walls or structures is a mark of a conscientious and responsible homeowner. Whether it’s through hiring a qualified party wall surveyor, serving timely notices, or directly engaging with your neighbours, the foundations for a smooth property experience can certainly be laid with care and consideration for party wall agreements.