Home extensions can provide you with much needed additional space. They also enhance the aesthetic and real estate value of your home. However, home extensions must comply with several building regulations and may require approval for planning permission. Some of these regulations pertain to the rights of your neighbours. You may also need to sign a party wall agreement with your neighbours if your homes are close.
What is The Party Wall Act 1996?
Whether you hire contractors or a construction company, they should be well aware of the party wall act. The party wall act applies to Wales and England but is not required in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The Act aims to resolve disputes arising from excavations, boundary walls, party structures, and party walls near neighbouring buildings. The Act designates the person who wants to carry out such a construction activity as the “Building Owner”. The owner is the person or group who:
- holds the freehold title
- holds the leasehold title (for more than one year)
- is under contract for purchasing the leasehold or freehold title
- is entitled to receive rentals from the property.
In short, if you want to carry out a house extension and fall into the above categories, you are the “building owner”, while your neighbour is designated as the “adjoining owner”. According to the Act, you must give prior notices to all adjoining owners before you start your construction activities.
Does the Act apply to me?
The party walk act does not apply to every construction activity. So you must be sure if you must send notices to your neighbours. The following activities are covered under the Act:
- Any construction work which has to be carried out on an existing party structure or wall.
- New construction astride or at the boundary line between two properties.
- Ground Excavation within 3 to 6 metres of a neighbouring structure and it relies on the depth of the proposed hole or foundations.
Construction activities may fall within any of the above or more than one category and may involve the construction of different structures such as office buildings, garages, houses, and extensions. You should get professional advice if you need clarification on whether the Act applies to you. You can get this advice from the relevant department or an experienced construction company.
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What is a Party Wall?
The Act defines two types of party walls: Type A and Type B.
“A wall is categorized as a “party wall” if it stands astride the boundary of land belonging to two (or more) different owners”. These walls:
- Are a part of one building.
- Separate two or multiple buildings.
- Consist of a “party fence wall.”
A party fence wall is a party wall that is not part of a building but stands astride the boundary line between the properties of different owners, such as a masonry garden wall. Hedges and wooden fences do not count as party fence walls.
Another type of party wall stands entirely on the land of one owner but is used as a boundary by two or more owners. For example, a person builds a boundary wall, but his neighbour builds his building against the wall without constructing his wall. Only that part of the wall that acts as a separation is considered “party”. The term “party structure” is much broader and may include floor or wall partitions or other structures separating two buildings or parts of them.
Can Your Neighbour Stop Your Extension?
Your neighbours cannot stop your house extension. They can delay your house extension by requesting details or asking for more time, but they cannot stop it. The Party Wall Act aims to protect neighbouring properties from any adverse effects of construction work by your building work, but it does not intend to stop residents from carrying out construction work.
When to Service Notices?
If your house extension needs to comply with the party wall act, then you should know that the related documentation’s validity is only one year. So, it is a good idea to keep your building date in your mind. Ideally, you should start the process right when you apply for planning permission approval. The notices you send depend on the type of work you intend to do and must include all the relevant construction activities. A party wall surveyor can help you serve the notices. Share your technical drawings with him, and they will inform you of the type of notices required and to who you need to send them. They will prepare the notices and send them to all concerned parties on your behalf.
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Options in the Notices
The notices mention four options and your neighbours have to choose one.
- Consent with no further action.
- Consent subject to a schedule of conditions.
- Dissent and request their own surveyor.
- Dissent and agree to use your surveyor.
What Should a Notice Include?
Your notice should include the details of the construction you want to carry out, contact details, dates for beginning and finishing the project, access requirements which you may need from your neighbours, and other information. If you have an adjoining leasehold property, you will have to serve notices to the owner and the tenants. You can find a detailed party wall guide with samples of notices on the official website.
Talk to Your Neighbours:
If you have good relations with your neighbours, it might be easier for you to make them agree to your extension plan, especially if it does not affect their house. You can explain it to them before serving notices. Whether they or you are new to the neighbourhood or you have been living together for years, talking first and then serving notices is the best way to go. If you require access from your neighbour’s property, you can explain it to them. You can also agree with them on the work timings, so you don’t end up offending them. Either way, you will have to serve notices. If your neighbours give consent in writing, nothing is left to worry about. If they issue a counter notice for the work they want to carry out, you can both agree to share the cost where applicable. If they refuse consent, it will start the “dispute resolution process”, which can be quickly settled by meeting your neighbours and agreeing on terms which benefit all involved.
What if I Don’t Serve Any Party Wall Notice?
Party wall notices or not signing an agreement are not legal offences, but you will be in breach of a “statutory duty” and will also risk paying for any damages. Apart from feeling offended, your neighbours can claim that their property has suffered damages, and there will not be much you can do about it. The courts usually take these issues seriously and will take a poor view of you if you have not served any notices. Your neighbours can also file a civil lawsuit and prevent further work, increasing costs and making your project unviable.
Planning Permission and Building Regulations
Planning permission and building regulations should not be confused with the party wall act. In case of planning permission, the planning department notifies your neighbours regarding your proposed plan and asks for their comments. They can support or oppose your plan, but their objections do not imply that your proposal will be rejected. Likewise, if they have no complaints, it does not mean that your project will be accepted. Planning permission works entirely differently than the party wall act and has its own requirements. The same can be said about building regulations. These regulations include fire safety, ventilation, plumbing, and several construction activities. Their compliance has nothing to do with the party wall act.