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Don’t be a party pooper: all about the Party Wall Act

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This week I’ve been talking to Giles Lewis, an independent Chartered Surveyor based in Salisbury, Wiltshire. We had an enlightening talk about party wall matters. And before you switch off – if you’re planning some work on your home, the next two minutes of reading may well save you a lot of angst and expense.

Imagine for a moment that you’re in the final building stages of your long-dreamed-of house extension. Three years in the planning, months of waiting for planning permission, not to mention the time waiting for your builder to be available, then you raided the piggy bank (and gave it an extra shake) and invested your hard-earned cash in improving your home. After months of construction chaos, it’s now looking fabulous.

But your neighbour isn’t happy. They found a crack in their own wall and are claiming that your building work caused the problem. They’ve hired a surveyor who thinks they have a case because, guess what? When you dig foundations within three metres of a neighbour’s structure and lower than its foundations, you need their agreement. You should have served a Party Wall Notice.

Why should I get advice?

appointing a builder or contractor

So, let’s backtrack 12 months to when someone, possibly your architect, mentioned those three little words – Party Wall Agreement – and your builder told you not to worry as it wasn’t an issue. But instead, you double-checked, took professional advice and served your neighbour with a Party Wall Notice. There was a discussion, a surveyor came out and assessed the proposed work and took photos of your neighbour’s property close to your works (complete with current and visible crack) and progressed matters to a Party Wall Award (not all cases go this way). Your neighbour was reassured that the work would not impact them, and the work could proceed.

By serving a Party Wall Notice, the situation was handled by professionals – not lawyers. So instead of worrying about a court case and paying legal fees, you’re thrilled with your new space and choosing a new dining table. Everyone’s happy.

This, my friends, is why someone like Giles Lewis is worth his weight in gold. As a party wall expert and professional Chartered Surveyor with 30 years industry experience, there isn’t much that he doesn’t know about this. He told me:

“Whether you’re intending to extend your home, convert your loft, or redevelop your land, the chances are that your building work may impact on the boundary of neighbouring properties or nearby buildings/structures which may require compliance with The Party Wall Act 1996.

“Cutting into a wall to take a weight-bearing beam or inserting flashing to your own side of a party wall/neighbours wall will trigger the Act and require the serving of a Party Wall Notice. Although not a party wall related issue, even a gutter or soffit that extends beyond a boundary might be classed as ‘trespass’ on your neighbour’s property. But it doesn’t have to be a big deal – there’s always a solution and these matters can be discussed in advance of works commencing. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about it all and if you’re not sure, then it’s always better to seek professional advice.”

Getting an agreement is reassuring for both parties

I ask if the process is yet another way to slow down the process or for neighbours to object, or just another cost homeowners don’t need, and Giles tells me that it’s actually the opposite. “The Party Wall Act is designed to allow you to carry out work on your home, to safeguard your neighbour and to protect the structural integrity of a neighbouring property, and it avoids unnecessary delays in starting work.

“And it might sound counterintuitive, but in my experience, people actually get a lot of comfort from being served with a Party Wall Notice by a professional before any work commences. It reassures them that a professional surveyor believes that the planned work is going to be carried out correctly and in a manner that won’t cause issues for them. The Act ensure that measures to safeguard your neighbours’ structures are in place prior to work commencing. Plus, it demonstrates that you take these matters seriously because you are actively seeking their permission. It can create a lot of goodwill, avoid more expense down the line.”

Giles is an accredited member of The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), and a member of the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors (FPWS) and representing both bodies, he’s required to act in the highest standards of professional practice. “My aim is to give the best advice based on my experience and make the entire process as smooth and painless as possible.”

If you have a query about work on your home that might require a Party Wall Notice to be served that may require a Party Wall Award to be served agreement, Giles offers free advice, and you can find more information on his website.

Additional resources

Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors – Party Wall Process

FPWS Party Wall Explanatory Leaflet

RICS-Party-Walls-(Consumer Guide) 2020

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