I am an adjoining owner - what do I need to know?

Adjoining Owners

Party Wall Notice Response Options for Adjoining Owners

Many Building Owners with neighbours on the other side of their wall are unaware of the Party Wall etc Act until one day they receive a party wall notice. Upon receipt of a party wall notice from your neighbour you may choose to respond in writing usually within a maximum time limit of 14 days, alternatively if you do not respond within 14 days a dispute is deemed to have arisen between you and your neighbours, and the Act requires that Surveyors be appointed to resolve the matter. If you decide to respond within 14 days, you can either agree or disagree with the proposed works. Indicating your disagreement does not mean that the work will not eventually be carried out, it simply means that a dispute has arisen and Surveyors will need to be appointed to resolve the matter. Similarly, if you agree to the work as proposed a dispute could arise at a later date and Surveyors could be appointed. If Surveyors are appointed late on in the matter it can be more difficult for them to ascertain whether damage has been caused by building work, or whether it was pre existing, and they would surely have preferred to have been involved from the outset.

Once you appoint a Party Wall Surveyor in writing, you can simply pass the party wall notice to your surveyor so that he or she can review it for compliance with the Party Wall etc Act. Your surveyor will then deal with the matter and he or she is required to follow the procedures set out in the Party Wall etc Act.

If you choose not to retain a Party Wall Surveyor and you want to respond to the party wall notice on your own then you have a choice among two main courses of action. Every situation can be different and the list below is therefore not intended to be exhaustive, but these are some of the most common scenarios:

1) Simply consent to the party wall notice

If the work to be performed is minor and it presents no risks of damage to your property or interests, then you may decide simply to allow the building owner to proceed with their project with no further action required from either of you. If possible, this might be the best available option since your neighbour will not incur more costs and neither should you. If you choose this option it is a good idea to still communicate with the building owner until the conclusion of the work. If a dispute does arise, then the procedure set out in the Party Wall etc Act can still be implemented, however, the Surveyors will be appointed without the benefit of having seen the condition of your property before work started, and this could make it more difficult to determine the scope of any possible damage. Once notifiable works are completed the Party Wall etc Act cannot be implemented retrospectively and any dispute would have to be directed towards the Courts. If in doubt, there are therefore powerful reasons for an Adjoining Owner to dissent to the notice, and to appoint a Party Wall Surveyor.

2) Dissent from the party wall notice

It is always preferable that neighbours reach agreement on their own about the works, indeed the Party Wall etc Act is a legal document with the main purpose of attempting to enable disputes to be avoided without the need to resort to litigation. You cannot stop someone from exercising their legal rights under the Party Wall etc Act and improving their property through works of construction. However, you may well be able to influence how and on what dates and times the work is done if it impacts you. If you do not consent to the notice then in most cases a party wall surveyor will be appointed on your behalf. If your neighbour has already retained his own surveyor, a surveyor must be appointed to look after your interests, unless you both agree that one Surveyor can act for you both. He or she will examine the proposed project plans, assess the likely impact of the work, and prepare an Award. In most cases the result of this process will be a legal document called a party wall award. Amongst other matters the party wall award will outline the specific rights and duties of both parties. One difficulty with both parties appointing one Surveyor as an Agreed Surveyor will be that they can determine and decide upon a range of issues and, apart from two heads usually being better than one, there is no Third Surveyor to decide upon any areas of disagreement. If both parties appoint their own surveyor, then a third Surveyor will be appointed, and either of the Surveyors, or the Building Owner and the Adjoining Owner can refer matters to him for decision. If you both appoint an Agreed Surveyor then no such mechanism for dispute resolution will exist.