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Our guide to serving a party wall notice

Our experts have put together this handy guide, so that you can understand what a party wall is and how to go about gaining all the legal permissions you need to start building.

6 min read

Whether you’re building an extension or converting your loft, if you’re undergoing a substantial renovation and have neighbours, then you might be faced with the Party Wall Act.

However, don’t let this legal term scare you. Our experts have put together this handy guide, so you can understand what a party wall is and how to go about gaining all the legal permissions you need to start building.

And don’t forget, if anything in this article seems confusing, our team is always on hand to offer free consultation!

What is a party wall agreement and do you need one?

A party wall is a wall, boundary, or outbuilding that you share with another household. These are common between terraced and semi-detached houses but can also affect detached properties if you share a garden wall or invisible boundary line.

If your project affects a party wall or you plan on excavating within 3 to 6 metres (depending on the depth of the new foundations) of your neighbour’s property, then you need to obtain permission from the affected households at least 2 months before any construction occurs.

In order to obtain approval, you’ll need to serve what’s known as a ‘party wall notice’. If your neighbour replies with written permission, then a ‘party wall award’ won’t be needed and work can go ahead. At Resi, our team always advises that a photographic survey of the neighbours property is completed, even if they sign the notices. This is a vital piece of information in the event that structural damage occurs and a dispute arises.

However, if your neighbour dissents to the notice, then you’ll need to appoint a party wall surveyor (or maybe two) in order to put a ‘party wall agreement’ together and secure the award.

Tip: If cost is important, we would suggest that you and the neighbour/s try to appoint an agreed surveyor. You/the building owner will be responsible for the fees, but this approach will generally be cheaper. More on this below.

How to serve a party wall notice

A party wall notice can be served by either a party wall surveyor (typically for a flat fee) or yourself - you can find the necessary forms here. A letter of acknowledgement for the neighbour to complete and return is usually included.

While serving notice yourself is cheaper, at Resi, we recommend you have a professional manage this notice on your behalf. This should help avoid common mistakes made during this process, such as:

  • Not informing all of those affected by your projects, such as forgetting to inform the freeholder or any leaseholder who has been present longer than a year.
  • Not giving enough detail about your project and any required structural calculations.
  • Using the wrong or an outdated form.
  • Not giving the other residents enough notice about your construction works.

Learn more about the benefits of using a party wall surveyor.

Remember: construction can only begin two months and one day after you’ve either received written permission or your award has been agreed. For excavations, this is reduced to one month and one day.

Your building work must also start within the first year of the party wall matters being resolved.

If your neighbours give permission…

Once your party wall notice has been served, the affected neighbours have fourteen days to respond.

In an ideal world, these other households will provide written consent on the condition you will put right any problems that may occur during the build. In this scenario, your project can proceed without the need for a party wall award.

From here, we recommend that photos are taken to document the condition of the existing property and to be referred to in the event of structural movement/damage/a dispute arising. These should be shared with your neighbour before the build begins.

To give yourself full protection from any future disputes, you can alternatively have your party wall surveyor assess the area and prepare documentation of the condition just before construction begins.

If your neighbours reject your notice…

If your neighbour doesn’t give a positive response, they could go in one of two ways. They might choose to reject your project outright or they may not respond to your notice within those first 14 days. If a response isn’t given, a 10 day follow up letter is sent. If this isn’t responded to, then you are legally required to seek a ‘party wall agreement’ in order to obtain the necessary award.

To start this process, you’ll need to appoint an agreed surveyor. This is a party wall surveyor who will represent both households during the agreement process, and is usually appointed within the first 10 days.

Although you might want to keep using the party wall surveyor you used to serve notice, it's likely your neighbour will want a new one appointed and ask that they’re part of the hiring process, so they can be sure the professional involved is unbiased.

If you and your neighbour cannot appoint an agreed surveyor because of disagreements or because they don’t want to use the same surveyors as yourself, then they are within their rights to request a second surveyor.

Important: as you will be the one covering these costs, you might be reluctant to bring in a second professional. However, you are legally required to make all these options available and to have them clearly set out in your party wall notice.

Once both of you have reached an agreemens, your surveyor can start preparing the party wall agreement, which should (hopefully) help you secure the necessary award.

A party wall agreement should cover…

  • How the proposed works will be carried out by the building party.
  • A “schedule of condition”; basically a record of the adjoining properties condition prior to works starting, so in the event of a dispute over areas affected by the construction, this document, complete with photographs, provides clear evidence.
  • What the project intends to create, supported by architectural drawings.

Learn more about how party wall disputes are solved here.

How to give your project the best chance of success

If you get hit with rejection during the notice stage, then resolving a party wall matter can take months. Therefore, you want to give your project the best chance of securing approval first-time round.

Here are our team’s top tips for gaining neighbourly favour…

  • Be nice! Before you even send your notice out, it pays to go around to those affected and explain to them in person what you intend to do. No one wants a notice to be sprung on them and without hearing the context, your work might sound more disruptive than it actually is.
  • Be aware of ambulance chases! These rogue party wall surveyors look for projects that have received planning permission and scare neighbours into rejecting notices so they can be the ones managing a party wall agreement. Learn more about these here.
  • Give as much detail as possible. When you go to talk to your neighbours, make sure you bring with you the contact details of either your party wall surveyor or your architect. This way they can talk about their concerns with a professional.
  • Get the best surveyor you can. As we say, getting a party wall surveyor to serve your notice is one of the best things you can do for your home, and the better the surveyor, the better the results. That’s why Resi provides Connect, a service which introduces you to vetted contractors in your area. We vet contractors by assessing them against a range of criteria amongst which are: whether or not they are Trustmark or FMB affiliated, whether they have the relevant insurances in place; an assessment of their past work; meeting minimum financial standards; and finally, references from both previous customers and trade.

Concerned your project will be hit with party wall matters? Not sure if you need to serve notice or when to do so? Don’t worry, for tailored home advice, our team is always on hand to provide free consultations - book yours here.

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