Rules for Shared Walls and Party Structures
There are several types of shared structures (common to two or more adjoining buildings) recognised by legislation in the United Kingdom.
As such, a party wall can be one that:
- Is located on an owner’s land but used by at least two (2) owners as a division between their buildings.
- Stands on the lands of at least two (2) owners and forms part of a building. It can either be part of one building on its own or separate buildings that belong to different owners.
- Stands on the lands of at least two (2) owners but does not form part of a building. A typical example would be a brick garden wall (e.g. not timber fences).
Note: The expression ‘party structure’ may refer to a floor or wall partition or any other structures that separate buildings or parts of buildings with different owners.
Telling Neighbours about Building Work
You must tell neighbours before carrying out building work near to, or at, shared property boundaries or walls in England and Wales.
The rules for conducting building works to party walls and structures that divide two or more properties generally relate to:
- Cutting into a party wall or making it deeper, shorter, or taller (including knocking it down or rebuilding it).
- Excavating, or digging below, the foundation level of a property shared with a neighbour.
- The removal of a shared chimney breast or the construction of a new building or wall on or at the boundary of two or more properties.
Note: The process for setting up party wall agreements is not the same as getting building regulations approval and planning permissions in England and Wales. Also, the rules differ in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
When You Don’t Need to Tell Neighbours
There is no legal requirement to inform people living in adjoining properties when you make ‘minor’ changes. So, some of the common examples will include:
- Adding or replacing electrical sockets or wiring
- Finishing work (e.g. plastering)
- Drilling work to put up cabinets or shelves
Giving Notice to a Neighbour
The party wall explanatory booklets cover the rules relating to when and how to notify people living in adjacent properties.
You need to give between two (2) months and one (1) year of advance warning (in writing) to neighbours before starting any building works on party walls and shared structures.
The notice should explain what work you intend to carry out. But, it is always a good idea to discuss it ‘verbally’ before you give notice in writing.
Important: As long as you make changes that follow property ownership laws, neighbours cannot stop you from making them. Even so, they may be able to affect when and how you conduct the projects.
Reaching Agreements: Paying for the Work
As a rule, giving notice creates an opportunity to reach an agreement with your neighbour. Following that, they can:
- Give consent. It should be given in writing and within fourteen (14) days.
- Refuse to give consent (which would start the dispute resolution process).
- Serve a counter notice within one (1) month of the first notice. It usually requests extra work or alterations, and if the neighbour benefits from the additional works, they would usually need to pay for it.
What if your neighbours fail to respond to the notice? If not, you must not assume that a lack of response means they give consent to the works.
Note: The legal process to resolve the dispute will start if they fail to respond to the notice within the given time.
Who Needs to Pay for the Work?
According to the law, the person who starts building works on a party wall or shared structure must pay for it. If it’s due to defects or a lack of repair, the neighbour may need to pay for a share of the cost.
The Dispute Resolution Process
Failing to reach an agreement means you would need to appoint a surveyor (you cannot represent yourself). But, you can choose to hire separate surveyors if you prefer to do so.
The surveyors would reach an agreement through a legal document called a ‘party wall award’. In simple terms, it will state:
- Exactly what kind of building work should take place.
- When it should be conducted (and how).
- Who will be responsible for paying for the various parts of the project and how much the total charge should be (including the fees for the surveyor).
If a Neighbour Fails to Appoint a Surveyor
Even though it is not commonplace, the law allows you to appoint a surveyor on behalf of the neighbour. Doing so may be necessary if they fail (or refuse) to hire one themselves.
Disagreeing with a Party Wall Award
You can file an appeal against the award if you don’t agree with it, using an ‘appellant’s notice’ at a county court. It should take place within fourteen (14) days of the date you receive it.
Note: Another section explains how to find contact details and information on courts (and tribunals) in England and Wales. It also covers some of the non-devolved tribunals in Scotland.
Once You Start Building Works
There are several rules to follow when you start to carry out the building works or alterations, including:
- Taking steps to avoid causing any unnecessary inconvenience to the people living next door.
- Making sure the works do not cause any damage to the neighbour’s property. You would need to fix any damage caused – or pay a tradesperson to do it.
Accessing a Neighbour’s Property
In some cases, you may need to get access to the adjoining property. If so, the neighbour cannot refuse to allow surveyors and workmen inside their property (during normal working hours).
Other than emergency situations (e.g. a burst water main), you would need to give them at least fourteen (14) days of advance notice to gain access.
Related Help Guides
- Boundaries: How to work out boundary lines?
- How to update property records when the owner dies?
- Stamp Duty Land Tax rates in the United Kingdom.
Note: The main section contains more information about the rules for owning a property in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.