What is a party wall?
A party wall is a part of a building that is a wall that either:
stands on 2 or more adjoining property owners’ land (ie it crosses the boundary between these properties), or
sits on one owner’s land but part of it separates multiple properties (the part separating the properties will be a party wall)
A wall will generally not be considered a party wall if it’s simply a boundary wall (eg a fence) built on one property, or if it’s an external wall that’s built up to but not on a boundary.
Party fence walls
A freestanding wall (ie a wall that’s not part of a building) can be a ‘party fence wall’ if it:
crosses a boundary between properties
separates these properties, and
is not a temporary structure
Party structures is a broader term that includes party walls as well as other structures that separate buildings or parts of buildings that are approached by different staircases or entrances. For example, a floor or ceiling that separates 2 flats.
The key rules and legislation applicable to party walls (eg the Party Wall etc. Act 1996) generally cover structures within all of the definitions set out above - ie party walls, party fence walls, and party structures.
What is the Party Wall Act?
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (‘the Act’) requires property owners to send Party wall notices to their neighbours (ie ‘adjoining owners’) when they’re planning to undertake certain works on their properties. This requirement applies to most works carried out on party walls.
Once notice has been served, if a neighbour does not consent to the proposed work, a surveyor (or multiple surveyors) should be appointed to analyse the situation and make a party wall award (ie a decision setting out what should happen to resolve the dispute).
If works to the party wall are so minor that serving a notice under the Act is not necessary (eg for straightforward repairs such as replastering, or cutting into the party wall to add or replace recessed electric wiring and sockets), a party wall notice may not be necessary.
What works are covered by the Party Wall Act?
The Act requires that party wall notices are sent when a property owner wants to:
build on or at a boundary between properties (eg building a new wall or other structure)
work on an existing party wall or party structure, (eg cutting into the party wall or making it taller), or
excavate (ie dig) within a certain distance of an adjoining building or structure. The relevant distance is:
3 metres horizontally, if the excavation will extend lower than the bottom of the adjoining building or structure’s foundations, or
6 metres horizontally if, within those 6 metres, a 45° line downwards from the bottom of the adjoining building or structure’s foundations towards the excavations will hit the excavations
When minor works are being carried out on an existing party wall, a party wall notice generally isn’t required. For example, drilling into the wall to put up shelves or replacing electrical wiring inside a wall.
Which type of party wall notice should be used?
There are a few different types of notices that a property owner can send to their neighbours when they wish to start work on a party wall. Which type is appropriate depends on the type of work being carried out:
party structure notices - for alterations that directly affect an existing party wall. For example, common jobs such as cutting holes to insert beams and pad stones, cutting into flashings, or removing chimney breasts
notices of adjacent excavation (ie 3-metre notices or 6-metre notices) - for when you are excavating within the relevant distance from your neighbour’s building
line of junction notices - for the construction of a new wall adjacent to a boundary, or the construction of a new wall straddling a boundary
When should a party wall notice be served?
Party wall notices should always be served before work starts. 2 months’ notice must usually be given. Once notice has been served, you can take up to a year to start work.
If you start work without having first correctly given notice, your neighbours may seek to stop your work through a court injunction or other legal remedy.
What happens after a party wall notice is served?
Once notice about intended work is served, each neighbour who received a notice can either:
give their consent to the proposed works (this should be done in writing within 14 days)
disagree with and refuse to consent to the proposed works (this should also be communicated in writing), or
do nothing (ie ignore the notice)
If, 14 days after serving the notice, the person receiving the notice has done nothing, a dispute is regarded as having arisen. Any disputes will be dealt with by a surveyor. A surveyor can either be appointed by both neighbours together, or each can appoint their own surveyor. You cannot act as your own surveyor. You can find a surveyor using the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Find a Surveyor service.
A surveyor is responsible for impartially assessing the dispute and issuing a decision regarding what should happen. They will do this by making a party wall award. If you do not agree with an award, you can appeal to a county court within 14 days of receiving it. This will involve filing an appellant’s notice in a county court, explaining why you’re appealing.
Other options may also be available to the parties during this process. For example, counter-notices may be served by a neighbour, requesting an alteration to proposed works, instead of an outright refusal being sent.
For more information on the party wall process, read our Party wall notice FAQs.
What if neighbours agree together to make changes to a party wall or to build at a junction?
In this situation, the parties must still ensure that party wall notices are sent to all relevant neighbours as usual. One neighbour may take charge and send these out, including to the other neighbour that’s decided they want the works done, to ensure that all legal requirements are met.
The parties should also formally agree who is responsible for what in relation to the works. For example, who will carry out or arrange for which works and who will pay what. You can set this out in a legally binding Party wall agreement for repairs.
Complying with party wall law can be complex. If you’ve any questions, do not hesitate to Ask a lawyer.