Neighbours Really Do Matter
09 Feb 21

Neighbours Really Do Matter

Your neighbour has been granted planning permission for a fancy new extension, but part of it will be built up to your house, and the foundations will be partly on your land. How come I wasn’t consulted and is this allowed?

Sound familiar?

It’s a common misconception that the Local Authority is the governing body for all things property, especially the Planning or the Building Control Departments.  In fact, this is incorrect. They will not be interested in any civil matter relating to boundary disputes or the Party Wall Act 1996. For these matters, you will need to consult a qualified Party Wall Surveyor. Typically this means a Chartered Building Surveyor.

Neighbourly disputes involving building works are far from uncommon as recent research would indicate. Many homeowners are opting for improving rather than moving. Whilst the most popular improvements include redecorating, landscaping and doing up the bathroom, one in eight are more ambitious, looking for extra space and open-plan living.

So, whether you are building into the loft or simply extending the ground floor space, make sure you obtain the correct permissions. But beware, in practice, building works involving neighbours often end up being contentious. And costly. Paying scant attention to your neighbour’s concerns may mean you gain more pain than you bargained for.

So, when do I need to think seriously about Party Wall matters?

A party wall is the shared wall, usually between a terrace or semi-detached house, which divides the homes of two separate owners. It also includes garden walls built over a boundary and excavations close to a neighbour’s property (within three or six meters, depending on the depth of the new foundations).

The Party Wall Act 1996 (PWA 1996) was introduced to protect both parties’ interests. It seems obvious when you think about it. A neighbour proposing to carry out work close to, or on your boundary, is going to attract your attention. So, the PWA includes a framework for resolving disputes between neighbours, should they arise. This is administered by independent surveyors. 

It’s true that your neighbour can’t stop you from making changes to your property that are within the law, but, if the building work you are planning involves your neighbour’s rights over a wall you’re legally obliged to consult them.

Does the work you are planning include:

  1. building on or adjacent to the boundary of both properties (like a garden wall);
  2. working on an existing party wall or structure (including a floor/ceiling that separates buildings or parts of buildings; e.g. a loft conversion where steelwork is inserted into the party wall);
  3. digging below or near to the foundation level of your neighbour’s property (e.g.: for a new foundations or even bigger basement area).

If your plans involve any of the work described above, then you are also obliged to give your neighbour(s) notice. And you must follow a strict procedure during and after the work. If in doubt, seek advice, and serve the relevant Notice (see below).

Serving the Party Wall Notice - timing is key

Please be aware different Notices can be served. Choosing the right one requires an understanding of the planned works. The Notice needs to be drafted carefully and issued correctly. After all, it is a legal document.

Remember also, you may need to serve more than one type of Notice, on numerous owners or interested parties.  It is not as simple as downloading a form from a website and issuing the Notice yourself.  Yes, it is surprising how many do this. Unfortunately, we have found in every instance where we’ve become involved at a later stage, the original Notice has been completed or served incorrectly.

Before you press on with serving the Notice, make sure you chat to your neighbours. Put yourself in their position. How much disruption will your plans cause? Make sure they understand what it is you are planning to do. Value your neighbours, as building work is stressful enough.

Notice period

When you’re ready, you need to serve notice on all the owners of every neighbouring property affected by the works, both freeholders and leaseholders.

Note: serving a notice will kick-start the statutory process.

The notice period depends on the nature of the work you are planning. The required notice period before works can commence is between 1 month and 2 months. Get this wrong and it will influence your entire programme and more than likely, the availability of your builder and contractor team. This explanatory leaflet will give you more detail.

It’s worth noting that if you change your plans after you’ve served notice, for example, increasing the size of your extension, you should be able to submit revised drawings to your neighbour(s) without having to serve a new notice, so long as these are not significantly different and revisions are approved and signed as accepted. Keep everyone updated is the best advice.

Whilst you can serve the Notice/s yourself (you can find example letters in the government’s Party Wall booklet here), it is another stress to add to the pot, and simple things like missing off dates or omitting appropriate drawings, can invalidate the Notice. Remember your neighbour/neighbours may well appoint their own surveyor who will check the validity of the notice.

Is it worth the risk?

14 days to respond

Once you have served the notice, your neighbour(s) has 14 days to respond. They can:

  1. Give their agreement. Straight-forward. Work can proceed.
  2. Refuses or does not respond.

If your neighbour(s) refuse (called dissenting) or fail to respond, you are deemed to be in dispute. You should speak to your neighbour and try to negotiate an agreement.

However, if you fail to agree, you’ll need to appoint a surveyor. The surveyor will then arrange a setting out guidelines for the proposed work.

Role of a surveyor

There are 3 types of appointments a surveyor can accept:

  1. the building owner’s surveyor – the owner undertaking the work;
  2. the adjoining owner’s surveyor – acting on behalf of the owner(s) affected by the work;
  3. the agreed surveyor – acting on behalf of both parties.

In all appointments, the role of the surveyor is to act inpartially and woth respect to the wall, and should not side with any party. It’s perfectly normal to use one surveyor; indeed, the process is more often quicker and cheaper. Avoid appointing a surveyor already involved in the build, as they are unlikely to be neutral by your neighbour(s).

This detailed RICS guide provides more information about the role of a surveyor in the process.

Timeline

At the start: serve notice to all legal owners, stating when the works will start (which must be within min 1 or 2 months’ time depending on the nature of works and the Notice issued)

14 days after Party Wall Notice: your neighbour must respond in writing. If they fail, they are in dissent. You must send a letter stating a surveyor must be appointed.

One/Two months and one day later: building work can begin, assuming the party wall award has been agreed.

One year and one day later: building work must have started

Our advice?

Communicate, clearly and sympathise with your neighbour’s concerns. If the boot was on the other foot, how would you feel? Neighbours play a key role and rightly so. You have invested a great deal in your property, so why risk a dispute, when you should be spending your time enjoying it.

We have many years’ experience helping our clients negotiate successfully through tricky situations. Contact us, we’re here to help.

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