What is a party wall notice?
A party wall notice is a legal notice served by a 'Building Owner' to an 'Adjoining Owner' in advance of the Building Owner's implementation of 'notifiable' works. The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 ("the Act") requires that notice is served in respect of certain works, such as: building a new wall at or astride the line of junction (sections 1(5) and 1(2)), works to a party structure (section 2) and adjacent excavations (section 6).
Do I need to serve a notice?
If you are the owner of the property where the building work is proposed, you are considered to be a Building Owner within the provisions of the Act. If the work you propose is 'notifiable', in that it falls within the ambit of sections 1, 2 and 6 of the Act, then you are legally required to serve notice on the affected 'Adjoining Owner(s)' in advance of the works being implemented.
When should a notice be served?
A 'Line of Junction' notice for works pursuant to section 1 of the Act must be served on the Adjoining Owner at least one month before the intended commencement of the works. An 'Adjacent Excavation' notice for works pursuant to section 6 of the Act must also be served at least one month before the intended commencement of the works. For works affecting party walls and party structures, notice must be served at least two months before the intended commencement of the works. In the event of a dispute, the notifiable works cannot commence until an Award has been served by the Party Wall Surveyor(s). This may take several months to resolve.
Who should I serve notice upon?
All notices must be served on the 'Adjoining Owner', as defined by section 20 of the Act. The Adjoining Owner is the legal owner of the property adjoining, or adjacent to, the Building Owner's property and is within the notifiable zone. The Adjoining Owner may be a single freeholder, or a freeholder and one or more leaseholders.
What are the different types of notice?
A 'Line of Junction' notice is required to be served where the Building Owner intends to build a new wall at, or astride the legal boundary (Line of Junction) where the boundary is not already built on other than an existing boundary wall. A 'Party Structure Notice' is required to be served in respect of works proposed by the Building Owner to a party wall or party structure. This includes raising, thickening, underpinning, cutting in to and repairing party walls, including cutting away projections such as chimney breasts. An 'Adjacent Excavation Notice' is required to be served where the Building Owner intends to excavate their own land in order to form foundations, but where such excavations are within a specified distance of any 'structure' on the Adjoining Owner's land. The specified distance is 3 metres in respect of excavations falling within the criteria of section 6(1) of the Act and 6 metres in respect of excavations falling within the criteria of section 6(2) of the Act.
What information should the notice contain?
A notice should be addressed to the legal owner, as defined by section 20 of the Act. Ownership information can be found on the Land Registry. Where the owner is not known, the notice can be simply addressed to 'The Owner', as defined by section 15 of the Act. The notice should also contain the Building Owner's name and address, along with the address of the property where the notifiable work is to be undertaken, if different. The notice should be accompanied by plans and, where possible, a specification. It is a requirement of the Act that 'Adjacent Excavation' notices are accompanied by plans and sections showing the proposed foundation depth and configuration. The notice should be dated and state when the works are to commence, observing the respective minimum statutory notice periods set out in the Act.
How far in advance should I serve notice?
One month for 'Line of Junction' and 'Adjacent Excavation' notices and two months for 'Party Structure' notices. In the event of a dispute, the notifiable works cannot commence until an Award has been served by the Party Wall Surveyor(s). This may take several months to resolve.
How long does a notice last?
Twelve months where consented to. If the notified works have not commenced within twelve months, then the notice will have lapsed and will need to be re-served. Where a dispute arises following service of notice, the works may not lawfully commence until the Award is served, which may well be more than twelve months from the date the notice was served.
Can I start the notifiable works before the notice period has elapsed?
Not lawfully, unless the Adjoining Owner agrees to waive any unexpired notice period.
What happens if I start notifiable works without serving notice?
You may be liable to injunctive proceedings and may be ordered to cease any notifiable works until the Act has been complied with. You may be ordered to pay the Adjoining Owner's legal and professional costs relating to any successful injunction. You may also be liable to actions being brought against you in tort for breach of statutory duty, trespass (where relevant), nuisance (where relevant) and negligence (where relevant). Failure to comply with the Act also means certain rights bestowed by the Act cannot be enjoyed, i.e. statutory access rights over the Adjoining Owner's land in order to undertake the notifiable works, or the right to do certain works which are not permitted outside the Act at common law.
What happens if the Adjoining Owner does not respond to the notice?
A 'Line of Junction' notice does not require a response from the Adjoining Owner. If a section 1(2) 'Line of Junction' notice has been served and the Adjoining Owner does not consent within 14 days, the Building Owner must simply build the wall wholly on their land up to the line of junction rather than astride it. Where an 'Adjacent Excavation' or 'Party Structure' notice has been served and the Adjoining Owner does not respond within 14 days, then a 'deemed dispute' arises, which then requires the parties to each appoint a Party Wall Surveyor or jointly appoint an 'Agreed Surveyor' to resolve the dispute by way of an Award. If the Adjoining Owner does not respond to a request to appoint a Party Wall Surveyor within 10 days of such a request being made, the Building Owner may appoint a Party Wall Surveyor on the Adjoining Owner's behalf, but this cannot be an 'Agreed Surveyor'.
What happens if the notice is found to be invalid?
If the notice is invalid, then so too is the appointment of any Party Wall Surveyor(s) arising from the notice and any Award made by the Party Wall Surveyor(s). This will also mean the implementation of any 'notifiable' works will be unlawful and in breach of statutory duty.