With press stories of newly-dug basements collapsing, you might worry about the risk of damage to your flat if a neighbour undertakes a big renovation job. Luckily you should be protected by the Party Walls etc Act 2006, which covers both walls between premises and party structures such as floors and partitions between flats.
At first, it may seem to be just another layer of hassle that goes along with leasehold, because anyone wanting to do work may already be required by the lease to apply to the freeholder for a licence to alter.
The party wall act, as the name suggests, focuses on the other parties to the wall or partition and ensures leaseholders are notified – and can satisfy themselves – that the proposed work is structurally sound and planned to minimize disruption to other flat owners.
The Act does not contain enforcement procedures for failure to serve a notice. However, a 2018 court case has proved that it does have teeth. A London flat owner brought a case under the Act and was awarded damages of £114,000. Work done by her downstairs neighbour to excavate a basement had been badly botched, causing doors, windows and floors to crack and move in the other flat. Roughly half the award was for damage done to her flat, the rest was for cleaning, loss of rental income and the cost of hiring a surveyor to help sort the whole sorry mess out.
The Party Wall Act
In a nutshell, if major work is to be done to a shared wall, then the person sharing the wall must also be formally notified of the proposal – even if the freeholder has been asked for and has granted permission. It may be that the freeholder can streamline the process by including the requirements of the Party Wall Act in the licence to alter.
This consultation process is also in addition to and separate from any application for planning permission or buildings regulation approval.
In practice, the sort of projects covered by the Party Wall etc Act 2006 are almost certainly going to involve hiring a surveyor, who should be fully conversant with the law on party walls and be able to manage the consultation process, as well as the resolution of any disputes or queries. You can find government guidance on the Act here.
What is a party wall?
A typical party wall forms part of a building, or buildings, on plots of land with separate owners, or is a boundary brick wall (fences do not count).
The Act also covers ‘party structures’. These could be a floor partition separating flats on different floors or a partition between adjacent flats on the same floor.
The Act covers new building on or at the boundary, work to an existing party wall or party structure, and excavation near to and below the foundation level of neighbouring buildings.
The Government publishes a useful explanatory booklet that provides more useful information.
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