Party Wall etc. Act 1996 – Much more than just Party Walls!
Although there is a lot of information available about the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (the Act), and its implications, it appears that there is equally as much misunderstanding or even ignorance about the Act, particularly from members of the public in relation to if and when the Act may apply. This article is therefore primarily aimed at those with little to no knowledge of the Act, however others may also find it of interest.
Awareness of statutory approvals such as Planning Permission and Building Regulations approval seems to be improving, however, the existence let alone the requirements of the Act, often comes as a complete surprise to many. If you are proposing certain types of work on your land or too your property then you may be required to 'notify' your neighbour under the Act. It is worth pointing out at this point that the requirements and procedures within the Act are completely separate to other statutory permissions such as Building Regulations and Planning Permission. On a number of occasions I have been informed by householders that they were either not made aware of the requirements of the Act by their advisors or that they thought that they had obtained all of the relevant permissions because they had Planning and Building Regulations Approvals, which is completely incorrect.
If you are proposing any work to your land or property it is worth undertaking a little research to establish if the work falls under the scope of the Act and therefore will require notification to your neighbour/s (something referred to as Adjoining Owner/s under the Act). As you would expect, I would always advise you to seek professional advice to confirm whether notification under the Act is required and if so help to guide you through the process, however, nowadays, with the raft of information available on-line, there is no reason why you shouldn't undertake your own research to give you a better understanding of the Act. The Department for Communities and Local Government have produced an excellent explanatory booklet, which explains the Act in a clear understandable manner and provides a really good starting point, particularly for those with little or no knowledge of the Act.
You may be surprised by the range of different types of work that are notifiable under the Act, which you will see are not just restricted to a party wall itself. The Department for Communities and Local Government booklet defines a party wall as, 'a wall is a "party wall" if it stands astride the boundary of land belonging to two (or more) different owner'. The booklet then provides some illustrations to demonstrate this point. It is interesting to note that the definition of a party wall is not just restricted to a wall inside a building, but can also relate to external walls also, such as boundary walls. The Act uses the term 'Party Fence Walls' to describe walls that are not part of an actual building itself, however may still require notification under the Act for works to, or in close proximity to them.
The term 'etc' in the title of the Act is also significant. Three innocent little letters (etc.), however the implications of the term denote that the scope of the Act is much wider than just party walls. In fact some works that require excavations near neighbouring buildings may also require notification under the Act. Section 6 of the Act requires notification of excavations within 3 metres (refer to diagram above) or within 6 metres of a neighbour's building or structure based upon the following criteria:
'excavate, or excavate and construct foundations for a new building or structure, within 3 metres of a neighbouring owner's building or structure, where that work will go deeper than the neighbour's foundations;
or excavate, or excavate for and construct foundations for a new building or structure, within 6 metres of a neighbouring owner's building or structure, where that work will cut a line drawn downwards at 45° from the bottom of the neighbour's foundations'
The six metre 'rule' is a little more complicated to understand (see the diagram below) than the three metre 'rule' and usually relates to deeper excavations such as piled foundations and the like. It is also worth noting that the six metre rule can affect more than one adjoining owner, depending upon the depth of excavation and the proximity of adjacent buildings and structures. In order to establish how many adjoining owners may be affected in any instance by the six metre 'rule' it will be necessary to take measurements and produce a section drawing which will detail the depth of the proposed excavation and the location and proximity of adjacent structures and buildings. Professional expertise is highly likely to be needed to take measurements and further investigations such as trial holes to establish existing foundation depths, to be able to produce a section drawings. This will help to establish if and how many adjoining owners will be affected.
Another term used within the Act is 'Party Structure'. This again suggests that the Act does not relate exclusively to party walls. In fact there are a number of notices that may be issued under the Act, one of which is a Party Structure Notice. The reason the notice is not entitled a Party Wall Notice, is that this would be misleading and not account for any works other those to Party Walls. Party structures are generally party walls however can also be defined as dividing structures such as floors and other partitions, however it is very rare that these structures are subject to party wall notification.
In summary it is easy to see how the Act can be misinterpreted, particularly by members of the public, just by the nature of it's title. For those who work in the property professions and interact with the Act on a regular basis there will be generally less confusion, however in my experience this is not always the case! As notification under the Act may be required for a whole range of different types of work, as defined in section 1, 2 & 6 of the Act, all construction professionals, regardless of discipline should have a good understanding of the Act including it's procedures.
In next week's article I discuss retrospective party wall notification and in future articles I will consider different types of notifiable works in more detail, as well as tackle the thorny issue of fees under the Act.
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