Neighbour disputes often develop in circumstances in which one party intends to undertake building works to fences, walls or buildings that are in common or are in close proximity with their neighbour’s land.
The Party Wall Act was designed to avoid such disputes by ensuring neighbouring property owners put each other on notice prior to undertaking those building works.
The Act requires that a “building owner” (undertaking the work) must serve a Party Wall Notice on their “adjoining owner”. The narrow definition of a “building owner” places the responsibility for serving such a notice on the individual with a substantive interest (i.e. ownership) in the property. The definition of an “adjoining owner” is far wider and includes anyone with an interest greater than a yearly tenancy.
In practice anyone who has permission to occupy a property should be served with a Party Wall Notice and it is therefore common for a Building Owner to serve numerous notices on their adjoining owners.
Once the notice has been served the building owner must commence the proposed works within 12 months. Those works must be exercised with reasonable care and skill to avoid any unnecessary inconvenience to the adjoining owner. If the adjoining owner’s property is damaged as a consequence, the “building owner” will be liable for the cost of compensating the adjoining owner for the repair.
Following receipt of the notice, the adjoining owner may choose to raise a “dispute” which under the Party Wall Act will trigger the appointment of an independent Party Wall Surveyor to carry out an inspection and to make an informed decision referred to as an award. Such award may require the building owner to undertake additional works (for example laying better foundations).
Property owners who intend to undertake building works should consider their responsibility to serve a Party Wall notice specifying the works that they intend to undertake. Adjoining owners should expect to receive such a notice however; if the building owner fails to serve a Party Wall Notice they will have little recourse except for applying to Court for an injunction to prevent the building owner undertaking the work.