Party Wall Strategy

Dorian Burt provides advice to architects and designers in the application of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 and how to design to maximise rights and avoid conflict in party wall matters.

While the provisions of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 may be known to many in a basic form, the application of them in design work is quite nuanced and can lead to may pit-falls and opportunities. The issues to be considered include but are not limited to:

  • the status of existing walls
  • the likely boundary positions
  • the existing rights encompassed
  • the rights for the proposed work
  • which work is notifiable and alternative options
  • which notices must be served
  • the number of potential adjoining owners
  • rights for access to do the work
  • risk of damage encompassed
  • likely conflict objection and means of avoidance
  • avoiding trespass
  • maximising space
  • designing for maintenance
  • future proofing for neighbours work

We can review concept drawings, attend design team meetings and meet on site to give advice on these aspects.

The party wall process itself is explained on our page Party Wall Service. Also see our page Party Wall Questions & Answers.

Dorian Burt is an experienced party wall surveyor. He can be consulted for initial advice, appointed as either the building owner’s surveyor, the adjoining owner’s surveyor, or appointed as a joint agreed surveyor.

Where Dorian Burt is appointed in an advisory capacity this can be a direct appointment to the client or via the architect/designer. If Dorian Burt later becomes appointed as a party wall surveyor, this can only be a direct appointment to the building owner and Dorian Burt will be under a duty to act impartially in deciding party wall matters.

Contact us for help.

Consultancy for Construction, Commercial and Public sectors

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We provide these expert consultancy services for Construction, Commercial and Public sectors:

We will be pleased to give you a written quotation for any of these. We can provide these services singularly or in combinations. If you have a slightly different requirement, we can tailor them to suit your needs. We will be happy to review any pre-qualification requirements.

If you have any questions about these services, or you are unsure what you need, please contact us and we’ll help in any way we can.

You can also refer to the Categories menu for groupings of services relevant to different customer types and sectors.

You can view a map of the locations where we have provided our services here.

Design Service

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– we draw architectural plans for planning permission, building regulations, project planning, working drawings and for solutions to technical problems.

Dorian Burt provides architectural design and drawing services for small extensions, refurbishment and technical detailing. We do this for planning applications, building regulations applications, tendering, working drawings and for solutions to technical problems during projects or as one off defect solutions.

We focus on producing traditional clear plans and elevations with working details as required. These range from simple to complex multi-layered drawings. We draw to scale to be sure everything fits. We generally provide electronic versions in PDF format, but can get them printed on paper at small and large sizes. We can add specification notes to drawings or provide specification separately.

These plans are formulated, produced and checked by Dorian Burt, a Chartered Surveyor who is more than a draftsperson, the surveyor has real world experience of the construction, inspection, refurbishment and maintenance of buildings. His knowledge and experience is put into the design work to avoid pitfalls, improve safety, ease construction, for longevity and economy.

We use industry standard AutoCAD computer-aided drawing software which we have worked with for many years throughout its updates and now the latest version. Dorian originally did his City & Guilds in AutoCAD in 1990, but as traditional methods were still the norm, learned to draft drawings with a parallel-motion drawing board, on paper and film, using pencil and ink, set square and stencils.

We uphold our duties under CDM Regulations as a Designer or Principal Designer as required by our work.

We work with our clients to understand their needs and advise the possibilities and constraints. We’re proud to say our designs and drawings are well thought out solutions which address the needs of clients, authorities and contractors.

Boundary Determination

Two neighbours in dispute over a boundary position can jointly appoint Dorian Burt to resolve the dispute by independently determining the boundary. This is the simplest, quickest and cheapest method to resolve the problem.

There are few disputes which stir emotions as much as those over property boundaries. Neighbours at odds over the position of the boundary can quickly become embroiled in a legal battle, often over relatively small pieces of land. There have been many instances of neighbours racking up huge legal bills with solicitors and court costs. Press reports highlight cases from time to time where people lose their savings or even have to remortgage their house over it. Add to this the stress involved and the need to disclose a dispute to any prospective buyer, damaging saleability and value of the property. The matter is put to court to decide; the court will usually request an expert surveyor to make a report on where the boundary should be. The two owners could have done that for themselves in the first place, without the need for solicitors or court.

Obtaining a boundary determination from a single independent surveyor such as Dorian Burt is the simplest solution. This is better than having two surveyors, each appointed by opposing owners, which only doubles the cost, shifts the conflict onward between the surveyors and ultimately to solicitors and court. A determination brings a “judgement” forward into the hands of the single independent surveyor – avoiding the legal costs, time and stress.

How a Boundary Determination works

Before a determination starts, both owners need to sign up to our engagement terms which, in summary, say they agree to;

  • share the fees
  • provide information, evidence and make representations while acting properly and honestly throughout
  • accept the determined boundary position
  • if directed by the surveyor, register the determined boundary position at Land Registry
  • if directed by the surveyor, accordingly move fences, structures and landscaping etc.
  • if directed by the surveyor, enter into mediation for alternative resolution options (such as a land swap or market-rate purchase to redress inequity)

We will presently only take on disputes on this joint appointment basis. Owners appointing Dorian Burt should be aware that one of them or sometimes both of them will be unhappy with the boundary determined, if the evidence and decision does not go in their favour, or on occaision shows that the boundary is actually somewhere in between. We will always act openly and honestly, giving an objective determination based on the available evidence. In some instances, there is not enough evidence to make a determination, in which case we make a recommendation which is non-binding or give other options for resolution.

We use a combination of methods to try to establish the boundary position;

  1. Considering representations and evidence from the owners
  2. Site survey and measurement
  3. Site reconnaissance for physical evidence
  4. Records searches
  5. Map searches
  6. Aerial photography review
  7. Current, contemporary and historical photography review
  8. Local history searches
  9. Neighbour and community enquiries

There are many misconceptions about boundaries, what plans show, who is responsible for which fence or ‘owns’ a boundary. Read our Boundaries Questions and Answers page for more details.

Dorian Burt can be appointed for a boundary determination, please contact us to discuss your situation.

Boundaries Questions and Answers

There are many misconceptions about boundaries, what plans show, who is responsible for which fence or ‘owns’ a boundary. These are particularly relevant when faced with a boundary dispute. Dorian Burt can be appointed to resolve this by making a Boundary Determination. See the common questions and our answers below.

What is a boundary?
A boundary is an imaginary legal line separating an area of owned land from another. A boundary has zero thickness, but extends from the centre of the earth to the sky. The owner of the land within the boundaries owns everything on the land, under it and above it. Anyone else on the property without permission, or allowing their buildings, fences, walls etc. to extend into it, is committing a trespass. Laws have been made so that the crown own any discovered minerals or oil etc. and such that aircraft etc. are allowed to pass through its airspace. Similarly others with statutory powers may have access.

Are boundary lines are straight?
No. They may be any shape or profile, as straight segments or curved.

Are boundary lines at right angles to the buildings-
No. They may be at right angles or skewed, diagonal or any direction.

I have a Title Plan from Land Registry, can I use this to prove boundary positions?
No. Title Plans are only indicative of the extent of ownership. They do not accurately show the boundary positions, unless they have sufficient measurements on the original plan which is rare. At the typical plan scales, the plan cannot finitely show exact positions and cannot be scaled from with any confidence. The thickness of a drawn line 0.25mm wide on a plan at 1:1250 scale is actually 312mm wide in reality, often as much or more than the distance in dispute. A boundary has zero thickness.

Is ‘my’ boundary always the one on the left or right?
Neither, this is a popular misconception. Properties may have responsibility for maintaining either right or left, both or none. The end of a rectangular garden also needs its boundary maintained and one property may also have some or all or this. Irregular shaped land is more complicated. Note that nobody owns a boundary (see below).

Do I own one of the boundaries?
Nobody can own a boundary itself, a boundary has zero thickness. A property may have a boundary assigned for which they have responsibility; i.e. the provision and upkeep of a wall or fence, hedge or ditch, other features or markers. This means you might own the fence or wall etc., but you do not own the zero thickness boundary line itself.

What do ‘T’ or ‘H’ marks on a Title Plan mean?
Title plans sometimes have a capital letter ‘T’ drawn on one side of the boundary line. The side on which the ‘T’ sits is the property with responsibility for maintaining the boundary. Sometimes responsibility for a boundary can be shared, so two ‘T’ marks are drawn and appear to make an ‘H’ straddling the line. Often there are no marks at all, but the responsibility is described in the Title Document in words instead.

Can I tell which fence is mine by seeing who has the ‘ugly’ side?
No. It was often thought customary to give your neighbour the ‘good’ side and yourself the ‘ugly’ side (the side with the bracing, support fittings or brick piers). However not everyone did this, and the practice is less common place these days.

Can I tell where the boundary is by knowing which fence or wall is mine?
No. A fence or wall or other boundary feature does not necessarily stand within the responsible owners land. It may stand up to the boundary line, astride it, over it or cross back and forth.

Can I tell where the boundary is because a fence or wall is there?
No. A fence, wall or other feature does not necessarily mean the boundary is there. They boundary line is a separate thing, the fences etc. might be right or wrong.

We had a party wall award made by surveyors, so has this changed or confirmed the boundary?
No. Party wall awards do not change or confirm the legal boundary, the boundary is only established by the party wall surveyors for the purposes of the party wall award and applies only to the related work. A party wall award is tied to owners and not the property so cannot pass on in a sale. The legal boundary which does pass on with the property can only be changed by having a boundary determination recorded at Land Registry.

I have used a piece of land for the last 12 years, can I claim ownership under Adverse Possession rights?
No. The rules for Adverse Possession (‘squatters rights’) changed on
13 October 2003. You would need to prove use for 12 years prior to this date to make a claim. After this date you need to prove 10 years, plus applying to Land Registry who write to any known owners and only after another 2 years without objections can you make a claim. In both cases you need to provide evidence to prove continuous use for the required periods and Land Registry will assess it.

Can I make an application for a boundary to be recorded at Land Registry myself?
Both property owners need to sign the form to agree the boundary position
application. Supporting evidence such as plans needs to be provided for which you may need a professional surveyor.

What if we can’t agree the boundary position?
You can jointly appoint Dorian Burt to resolve the dispute by making an independent Boundary Determination. Read our Boundary Determination page to find out why this is best and how it works.

Should we go to solicitors, our own surveyor and even court?
No. Having a single independent surveyor jointly appointed to determine the boundary is the quickest, cheapest and least stressful option. Opposing solicitors, expert witness reports as adversaries and court will only rack up fees, time and stress. It would also be likely to irreparably damage relations where you will continue to live. If the matter ultimately goes to court, it is decided by a single person taking account of all the evidence; this is what Dorian Burt as the single surveyor would have done in the first place in an independent Boundary Determination.

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Party Walls – explanatory guide

The Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors have produced this leaflet to give a quick overview of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996.
Download the guide here.

For more detail please read our pages Party Wall Service and Party Wall Questions and Answers.

Please contact us for bespoke advice and guidance on your project or your neighbour’s planned work. Dorian Burt can be your party wall surveyor.

Dorian Burt is a Chartered Building Surveyor and member of the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors.

Royal Observatory Greenwich – Altazimuth Pavilion Project

Near completion June 2018

Once again one of our projects is in the news. We’re very proud to have been working for Royal Museums Greenwich at The Royal Observatory Greenwich. We’ve been surveying, specifying and overseeing conservation work to the Altazimuth Pavilion and the work is now completed. Continue reading

Time-lapse video of gilding the Great Hall

Turner Prize-winning artist Richard Wright gilded the ceiling and walls of the Great Hall at The Queen’s House Greenwich during a year of conservation and refurbishment we project managed. Months of work are condensed into less than 3 minutes in this time-lapse video!

Read more here: http://www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/we-recommend/attractions/great-hall-ceiling

Video of the completed Queen’s House Greenwich

Beautiful video of the result of our conservation project at The Queen’s House Greenwich. We provided project management and CDM services on arguably the most important building in British architectural history. Built 400 years ago, this is the first classical building in the country, it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and sits on a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We are so proud to have worked on it.

Better still, go and visit – unbelievably it’s free.

Why you should build on the line of junction

If you’re planning a domestic extension and reviewing the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, you might be thinking the best thing you can do is keep your new structure spaced away from the boundary, but it’s not necessarily so. Yes, keeping a space – any space – away from the boundary (what we call the line of junction) will get you out of needing to serve a line of junction notice to your neighbour. But the bigger issue here is access. Continue reading

Party Wall Service

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The Party Wall Etc. Act 1996 provides rights for building owners to undertake certain types of work and rights to protection for the adjoining owners. This page gives an overview of the process under the Party Wall Etc. Act 1996, and the services we can offer. Also see our page Party Wall Questions & Answers.

Dorian Burt can be your party wall surveyor to resolve party wall matters where appointed by the building owner carrying out the work or by the adjoining owner next door or for both parties as the agreed surveyor.

Before undertaking certain types of work relating to, or near to, a party wall or party structure a building owner (the person doing the work) should serve the appropriate party wall notice to the adjoining owner (the neighbour to the works). They may appoint a surveyor to do this for them.

Determining what is and isn’t a party wall or party structure and what is and isn’t work that falls within the provisions of the Act can be complex.  Broadly, the kinds of work included are:

  • new building on or at the boundary of two properties
  • work to an existing party wall or party structure
  • excavation near to and below the foundation level of neighbouring buildings or structures

Similarly it can be complex to identify who the adjoining owners actually are; there could be more than one – they could be all of the freeholder, their tenants and another freeholder whose property overlaps by only a small amount.

The building owner should ask an experienced party wall surveyor for their advice on all these points.

If the building owner carries out the work without serving the notice required and before an agreement to the works (or an award, see below) is made, they may face an injunction to stop work or perhaps be sued for damages.

The adjoining owner may agree to the works or ‘dissent’ (disagree) or perhaps be silent. If simply agreeing to the works, in writing, they may proceed. If they choose to dissent or are silent for 14 days it is termed that a ‘dispute’ has arisen.

In reality a dissent or silence may not really be a strong dispute, only that the adjoining owner wishes to invoke the party wall procedure to protect their interests prior to the work being done. However as long as the development is lawful, the Party Wall Act cannot be used to prevent the work or object to the development completely – those are issues for planning authorities and the respective process.

Once a dispute has arisen, the procedure laid down in the Party Wall Act is followed:

  1. Each side appoints a surveyor to act for them, or can appoint one independent surveyor to act jointly, called the agreed surveyor. The building owner usually pays for both the surveyors, though there may be exceptional circumstances where the surveyors agree that the adjoining owner should pay for some aspects (e.g. if demanding additional professional services above and beyond those reasonably required under the Act). Once appointed, the surveyors have to serve the Act itself equitably, not the owners they work for. The Act is their ‘client’.
  2. The surveyors first duty is to nominate and agree on a third surveyor. This is the person who will adjudicate should the two surveyors fail to agree. This should always be done first while relations are good and the matter straightforward.
  3. Details of the proposed works are shared between the surveyors and reviewed by the adjoining owner’s surveyor to protect the interest of the adjoining owner. There may be some negotiation about sequence, methods, technical details etc. but as above, the Party Wall Act cannot be used to prevent the work or object to the development completely – those are issues for planning authorities and the respective process.
  4. A schedule of condition is taken; this is a descriptive and photographic record of the adjoining owner’s property at a point in time before the work starts. It can be used later to confirm or reject any claim that damage or defect has arisen in the adjoining owner’s property as a result of the works.
  5. An ‘award’ is made by the surveyors. This is simply a legal document which binds the owners to certain undertakings; i.e. the adjoining owner to consent to the works and the building owner to make good any damage to the adjoining owner’s building and ensure their contractor sticks to certain rules agreed.
  6. The award is signed by the surveyors and copies given to each owner and usually the contractor doing the work.
  7. From the time the award is signed, there is a statutory 14 day appeal period during which either owner can challenge the award in court; they have to have good grounds to be successful. The building owner should not start work during this time or if they do, it’s at their own risk of the award being overturned which could result in work having to be undone or damages being payable to the adjoining owner(s).
  8. The surveyors should monitor the works to ensure the award is complied with, to completion.

This Government web-page has a detailed booklet on party walls at the foot of the page for downloading: www.gov.uk/party-wall-etc-act-1996-guidance

Also see our page Party Wall Questions & Answers.

We can be consulted for initial advice, appointed as either the building owner’s surveyor, the adjoining owner’s surveyor, or appointed as a joint agreed surveyor.

Contact us for help.

Where we act for building owners we apply the Party Wall Act to enable them to carry out building work in accordance with their rights.

Where we act for adjoining owners we apply the Party Wall Act to protect their interests, allowing the work for which there are rights, but with controls and undertakings to make good damage in place.

Where we act as the agreed surveyor, we apply the Party Wall Act to both enable the building owner’s work and put in place controls and undertakings to protect the adjoining owner’s interests.

We also provide a schedule of condition as a separate service if required.

Dorian Burt is a Member of the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors (FPWS). They have produced an advice leaflet available here.

Party Wall Questions & Answers

This page answers some frequently asked questions about party walls. This page is for building owners and adjoining owners (neighbours). The party wall process itself is explained on our page Party Wall Service.

Q: What work is covered by the Party Wall Etc. Act 1996?

  • A: The Act covers:
  • new building on or at the boundary of two properties
  • work to an existing party wall or party structure
  • excavation near to and below the foundation level of neighbouring buildings or structures

This may include:

  • building a new wall on or at the boundary of two properties
  • cutting into a party wall
  • making a party wall taller, shorter or deeper
  • removing chimney breasts from a party wall
  • knocking down and rebuilding a party wall
  • digging below the foundation level of a neighbour’s property

Q: What is a Party Wall?

  • A:  A party wall is simply a wall that divides two parties and is shared by them. Broadly this might be one of:
  • Type A – a wall standing astride the boundary; with only one side part of a building; with both sides part of buildings; or with no attached buildings (like a boundary or garden wall – called a party fence wall; although timber fences aren’t actually covered by the Act).
  • Type B – a wall standing wholly on the land of one owner, but used by two owners to separate their buildings. Any part which doesn’t divide two buildings is not ‘party’ and not covered.
  • See also party structure below.

Q:  What is a party fence wall?

  • A:  A party fence wall stands astride the boundary of two properties and does not form part of a building; e.g. a garden or boundary wall. Similar walls which stand wholly on one owners land are not party fence walls and are not covered by the Act. Fences are not covered by the Act.

Q:  What is a party structure?

  • A:  A party structure is any part of a building which divides it from other parts owned by someone else. Examples are the walls and floors between flats.

Q:  What if I want to excavate near a neighbours house/building?

  • A:  If you want to excavate within 3m horizontally of their foundation and below the level of the bottom of their foundation you need to adhere to the Act and serve a notice under Section 6(1). If you want to excavate within 6m horizontally of their foundation and below the line cutting a 45 degree angle downward from the bottom of their foundation you need to adhere to the Act and serve a notice under Section 6(2). You can do this yourself or we can do this for you.

Q:  What if I only want to excavate near a neighbours separate structure, not their house/building?

  • A:  The excavation clauses apply equally to excavations near neighbours houses/buildings and their other separate ‘structures’, requiring service of a notice under Section 6. You can do this yourself or we can do this for you. This can include masonry garden walls, garages, concrete bases, manholes, retaining walls, ponds and pools, raised flower beds, statues, memorials and gravestones etc. Definitions of ‘structures’ is not a hard and fast rule; it may be a matter of discretion and risk assessment – i.e. consider if it might be damaged by the works and if the adjoining owner is likely to object if no notice is served. Note this is any general ‘structure’, different from a ‘party structure’, see other questions above.

Q:  How do I know if I will excavate deeper than my neighbours foundations?

  • A:  If you are building an extension the foundations will usually be a minimum of 1m deep. If you are building next to a pre-1950s building or a small/simple structure it is likely to have shallower foundations. More modern houses may have foundations at similar depths to what you are planning. If it is unclear how deep the neighbours foundations are you can ask them if you can dig a trial hole against the wall to expose and measure their depth. Bear in mind that your local authority building control officer may ask you to build deeper foundations once they inspect the foundation excavations, which could push you into complying with the Act where you didn’t need to at the design and planning stage. Sometimes it is safest to assume you need to serve an excavation notice under Section 6 anyway to avoid a delay later. You can do this yourself or we can do this for you.

Q:  Who are ‘owners’ with rights under the Act?

  • A:  An owner under the Act is anyone with an interest in the property, on either side. This would be a freeholder or even a leaseholder or tenant provided their lease or tenancy is longer than 12 months. Some properties may have all three or more; in this case there may be multiple awards to make on a single building. It could also include a buyer of the property if they have exchanged contracts. The owner of the building where the work is happening is called the building owner; the neighbours are called the adjoining owners.

Q:  What is a party wall award?

  • A:  An award is simply a legal document which binds the owners to certain undertakings; i.e. the adjoining owner to consent to the works and the building owner to make good any damage to the adjoining owner’s building and ensure their contractor sticks to certain rules agreed. The award refers to the schedule of condition and drawings of the proposed works.

Q:  What is a schedule of condition?

  • A:  A schedule of condition is a descriptive and photographic record of the adjoining owner’s property at a point in time before the work starts. It can be used later to confirm or reject any claim that damage or defect has arisen in the adjoining owner’s property as a result of the works.

Q:  Who can be the surveyor?

  • A:  The surveyor can be anyone independent of the works and the parties. They can’t be a family member of any owner or anyone with something to gain in the work; this would be a conflict of interest. Though the surveyor could legally be anyone off the street, it is best to use a competent experienced party wall surveyor as the process can quickly become a long expensive mess if not done properly. There will be issues that require expert understanding of technical building details. As above, you should consider your options and compare several surveyors before selecting one. Most reliable surveyors will give you some time on the telephone without charge to initially discuss your options and their service. Cheap fixed-price party wall surveyors tend to provide the minimum of service; you get what you pay for.

Q:  Can we have one surveyor?

  • A:  The parties can have one surveyor each or agree to share a single surveyor, who is called the agreed surveyor. The agreed surveyor has a duty to act impartially for both parties; the Act and wall are his priority. An adjoining owner you may still feel that the surveyor would have a conflict of interest – particularly if they are involved in the work, such as the designer – there is no requirement to agree to appointment of an agreed surveyor. The adjoining owner can insist on their own separate surveyor. Note that if the adjoining owner was silent to the notice or refused to appoint a surveyor then an agreed surveyor cannot be used, a second separate surveyor can be appointed for them under the Act.

Q:  Who pays for the surveyors?

  • A:  It is most common for the building owner doing the work to pay for the fees of both surveyors or the agreed surveyor. The surveyors will usually specify this in the award (agreement) they make. If the adjoining owner were to demand various extra surveying, tests or monitoring which the surveyors thought was beyond reasonable needs they may apportion those fees to be paid by the adjoining owner.

Q:  How long does the party wall process usually take?

  • A:  The party wall award usually takes four to six weeks provided the building owner has all the drawings and details ready and the adjoining owner cooperates. Where there are two surveyors, the process is usually a little slower than with a single agreed surveyor. Sometimes it can take as long as three months if communication and paperwork is slow or there is some particular point of disagreement. In rare cases, where there are serious disagreements on technical and legal points, the party wall process can last six months or more. Note that there are statutory notice periods for the notices to run before works can take place. These are one month for line of junction (building a new wall on the boundary) and excavation notices and two months for party structure (works to an existing wall) notices. These times can be shortened if an earlier date is expressly agreed to by the adjoining owner, but a party wall Award cannot shorten it otherwise. When an award is served, there is a statutory 14 day appeal period, so it is best not to start work until that has also elapsed. The earlier you serve your initial notice, the better.

Q:  Why have I received a letter from a firm of surveyors saying I have to follow the Party Wall Act when next door have put in a planning application for work?

  • A:  Some surveyors firms monitor local newspapers for new planning notices placed by council planning departments when an application is made; they write to all the neighbours in the hope that they will get some party wall surveyor work. Usually these letters are headed PARTY WALL ETC. ACT 1996 and some are strongly worded intimating you must appoint them to handle the situation. In reality you don’t have to do anything until a notice is served by the building owner and then you have the option to appoint any party wall surveyor you choose or to agree to the work. You could use this as a prompt to talk to your neighbour and ask when they plan to start work and remind them about their obligation to serve notice in advance under the Party Wall Act. As with most unsolicited offers, you should consider your options and compare several surveyors before selecting one. Cheap fixed-price party wall surveyors tend to provide the minimum of service; you get what you pay for. Most reliable surveyors will give you some time on the telephone without charge to initially discuss your options and their service. If you are an adjoining owner it usually costs you nothing to have a surveyor to protect your interests, as the person doing the work normally pays all the fees.

Q:  I get on well with my neighbour, do I have to follow the Party Wall Act process?

  • A:  Adjoining owners have the option to simply agree to the work with the building owner when they issue notice of it – BUT bear in mind this is an unconditional agreement to the work. This gives them and their building little or no protection if things go wrong. There is no experienced technical surveyor appointed to look over the proposals and seek out and highlight issues that may affect the neighbouring properties. In the event of damage to the building an adjoining owner may have to take the building owner to court and produce evidence that the damage is due to their work which could be long and costly. Similarly a building owner has nothing to use to defend themselves against a claim for damage that was actually already there. It is always best for both parties protection to have a formal party wall process undertaken by competent surveyors leading to a party wall award with a schedule of condition.

Q:  I received a party wall notice from my neighbour who is doing work. I don’t really disagree with the work but I do want to protect my interests. Do I have to say I disagree / dispute / dissent to the work as that sounds too harsh and confrontational?

  • A:  The standard template notices and response forms use the words ‘agree’ or ‘do not agree’, while some people also use the term ‘dissent’. The Act wording and the terminology surveyors use all call any reservation a ‘dispute’ if you are not agreeing unconditionally. In reality you may be receptive to the work but just protecting your interests; most Building Owners should understand this and all competent surveyors will also understand that may well be your point of view. You should not feel any awkwardness in completing the form with ‘do not agree’/’dissent’ and that you want a surveyor appointed; these are your rights. If you like you could include a less formal covering letter when you return the notice response to the Building Owner. By the way, note that the Act can’t be used to prevent the work happening (that’s down to the planning process) – so being receptive or not is really not the issue.

Q:  I am an adjoining owner and have responded to the notice by agreeing to the work but now it has started to go wrong, what can I do?

  • A:  An adjoining owner who received notice and agreed to the work still has limited rights to call for surveyors to be appointed and resolve a dispute under the Act;
    – if the notified portion of work deviates from the notified plans without agreeing it first
    – in the event of a dispute as to responsibility for expenses
    – where making good is required, a neighbour has a right to ask for the work to be valued and receive payment instead of making good works
    – an adjoining owner may serve a notice requiring the building owner to provide security for expenses against failure to make good damage etc.
    Any dispute arising under these can be resolved by appointing surveyor(s) who will make an award.

Q:  I don’t want the work to go ahead at all, can I use the Party Wall Act to stop it?

  • A:  In the course of agreeing an award there may be some negotiation between surveyors about sequence, methods, technical details etc. but the Party Wall Act cannot be used to prevent the work or object to the development completely – those are issues for planning authorities and the respective process. If planning permission is required and has already been granted, you cannot stop the works except by a planning appeal within the allowable periods. Some owners may seek to derail or delay the process; the Party Wall Act includes provisions for going to a third surveyor to determine a dispute and also for either surveyor to take over if one is unreasonable, unresponsive or ineffective. The Act is an enabling Act – its purpose is to allow work to go ahead within a legal framework, not to prevent it.

Q:  What if work has started without serving a Notice or finally agreeing a Party Wall Award?

  • A:  If the building owner carries out the work without serving the notice required and before an agreement to the works or an award is made, they may face an injunction to stop work or perhaps be sued for damages. In most cases a reminder of this is enough to stop work until matters are properly organised. Building owners who realise they have started without adhering to the process should stop work immediately and contact a party wall surveyor for help.

Q:  What if the surveyors can’t agree or are ineffective?

  • A:  The Party Wall Act includes provisions for going to a third surveyor to determine a dispute between surveyors. This will unfortunately incur the third surveyor’s fee, but they will apportion it according to where they see the cost having arisen – it is common for that fee to be split. If one surveyor is unresponsive or ineffective, the Act allows for the other surveyor, after giving notice, to take over unilaterally. They then have to administer the award as if they are an agreed surveyor.

Q:  What if the contractor breaches the terms of the Award?

  • A:  If the contractor is allowed to breach the terms of the award, the building owner employing them will have themselves breached the award. They may face an injunction to stop work or perhaps be sued for damages. In most cases a reminder of this is enough to prompt the building owner to adhere to the terms of the award.

Q:  What if I suddenly have a reason to want to get out of the award after signature?

  • A:  Parties to the award have 14 days to appeal against it. However they have to go to court to do so and need good grounds for this to be successful. For this reason although building owners can start work as soon as an award is signed, it is safest to wait until another 14 days have elapsed to make sure their work isn’t forced to be undone by an appeal.

This Government web-page has a detailed booklet on party walls and template letters for downloading: www.gov.uk/party-wall-etc-act-1996-guidance

Contact us for help.

We can be consulted for initial advice, appointed as either the building owner’s surveyor, the adjoining owner’s surveyor, or appointed as a joint agreed surveyor.

We also provide a schedule of condition as a separate service if required.

Dorian Burt is a Member of the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors (FPWS). They have produced an advice leaflet available here.

Party Wall advice leaflet from FPWS

The Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors (FPWS) have published a leaflet to give advice to anyone needing to know more about Party Wall issues:

Party Wall Leaflet thumbClick for Party Wall Explanatory Leaflet (PDF).

You can also read more on our pages Party Wall Service and Party Wall Questions & Answers.

We can be consulted for initial advice, appointed as either the Building Owner’s Surveyor, the Adjoining Owner’s Surveyor, or appointed as a joint Agreed Surveyor.

Contact us for help.

Dorian Burt is a Member of the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors (FPWS).

Member of the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors

Member of the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors logoDorian Burt is pleased to announce he has passed the entrance test and interview to become a Member of the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors (FPWS).

The FPWS is the professional body representing party wall surveyors, formed to educate and maintain standards for experts in the field and to provide guidance to the general public. You can find out more about them on the FPWS website.

Guidance on the party wall process is on our party wall services page here, while common questions and answers are addressed on our party wall Q&A page here.

FPWS have also produced an advice leaflet available here.

Private road resurfaced in Tonbridge

Road before resurfacingThe residents of a private road in Tonbridge endured years of struggling to reach their houses over what was once a road and worse being inundated by muddy water during heavy rain. The residents of the road, which included private houses along with access to two apartment blocks and sheltered housing, formed a residents association and appointed Dorian Burt to provide options and undertake an improvement project.

The site was very congested with many trees, buried cables, water and gas mains and limited space to supplement the existing drainage. The soils were clay and opportunities for additional drainage very limited. Dorian Burt arranged drain surveys, specified the work, obtained competitive tenders and oversaw the work through a formal contract.
Road after resurfacingThe finished road has upgraded gullies, enlarged and fitted with leaf traps and silt buckets allowing easy cleaning, new edging to keep mud off the road and water bars to drive ways. Residents report the drains now work well and it is a pleasure to drive on their road.