Boundary walls of one kind or another are a hot topic in the news at the moment. Incoming US president Donald Trump’s determination to build a wall along the border with Mexico has raised a few eyebrows to say the least – and could end in the mother of all neighbour disputes over who foots the bill.
We’ve all heard of domestic spats over garden fences and new structures in one garden affecting the drainage in the one next door.
But so called Party Wall disputes can be a serious matter for those who become embroiled in them, even in the commercial property sector. It is serious enough to have an entire Act of Parliament dedicated to it, the Party Wall Etc Act 1996.
Party walls are classed as any wall, whether exterior or internal, which separates one property from another. They may or may not be built along the exact line of the boundary itself – a wall which sits on one of two adjacent properties but which is intended to separate them is still classed as a party wall.
The definition also extends to other structures separating two properties, such as fences.
Under the terms of the Party Wall Act, the owners of both properties have equal legal rights and responsibilities regarding any separating structures. This is where problems arise, as the law states that both parties must agree when changes are made to boundary walls.
What many people are not aware of is that it is not just a case of asking your neighbour for permission if you want to knock down a shared wall and build a new one. The Act covers all sorts of work affecting boundary structures, including:
- Modifications to the structure on one side or another
- Building a new wall or structure, either freestanding or as part of a larger building, adjacent to the existing boundary.
- Carrying out excavations close to the boundary structure.
So if you want to extend your existing premises outwards along the line of the property boundary, or dig up the land to add extra parking space, you are legally obliged to gain permission from your neighbour first.
In many situations, property owners begin work without realising this, and subsequently become tangled up in a lengthy legal dispute.
The easiest way to avoid difficulties down the line is to hire a surveyor, either directly or through a solicitor, whenever you are planning work which comes close to a property boundary.
In the first place, a surveyor will be able to look at your plans and advise you whether the proposed work does indeed fall under the terms of the Party Wall Act or not.
The owner of the adjacent property will then be informed of your intentions and advised to have their own survey carried out. That way, both parties get their own independent assessment of the potential impact, which forms a sound basis for beginning mediation should there be any objections raised.
For further help and advice on seeking consent for building or alterations at property boundaries, please contact our Building Consultancy team.