Check the Facts Before You Begin Your Project
If any aspect of a building project affects a party wall, you will need to draw up an agreement with your neighbour. Don’t start a project without one.
Continuing uncertainty in the housing market has spelt good news for builders, as more homeowners than ever are deciding to invest in extensions and improvements to their existing homes instead of moving to new ones. Unfortunately, when demand outstrips supply, it creates a market dynamic in which the builders hold all the power. This can put homeowners in a difficult situation.
This is not so much down to any increase in the risk of cowboy contractors –these are neither more nor less prevalent than they have always been. It is more a case that contractors are more likely to take the path of least resistance to get the job done, the bill paid and move on to the next.
The tricky question of whether you need to seek party wall advice is a perfect case in point. The average householder probably knows little about the topic. Contractors know more – namely that getting a party wall agreement signed off can be tricky and time consuming. So there is a growing risk that they will keep quiet, press on without one and hope for the best – leaving the homeowner with all the potential fallout.
What is a party wall agreement?
A party wall forms the boundary between your property and that of a neighbour. The most obvious example is the wall that separates terraced or semi detached properties, although sometimes a party wall also forms the boundary between gardens.
If you intend to perform any work that will impinge on the party wall in any way, you need to get express written consent from your neighbour. This is called a party wall agreement. In this sense, impinging on the party wall includes drilling into it, attaching something to it, cutting into it, digging under it or changing the height of it.
What happens if you don’t bother?
Most neighbours will not have a problem with you digging foundations for an extension or building a loft conversion, and nine times out of ten, they will happily give consent. Perhaps this is part of the reason why some less scrupulous builders will think “why bother?” and just get on with it. The other reason concerns the one in ten that will not consent. This can lead to delays and additional costs. There is a certain twisted logic to it – if the neighbour isn’t going to object, asking them is an unnecessary formality, and if the neighbour is going to object, asking them will just cause trouble.
Unfortunately, that logic is not just twisted, it is also flawed. A party wall agreement provides protection to you as much as to your neighbour. Let’s first look at the case of the “unwilling” neighbour. Provided that planning permission and building regs are met, they cannot refuse your project unless there is a good reason to do so. If they object, the matter will be referred to independent third parties for a binding decision. If you go ahead without one, your neighbour immediately has the moral high ground and can force a halt to proceedings by court injunction.
Even when a neighbour is 100 percent happy, the party wall agreement gets everything in writing and can be used to keep any future problems amicable, for example in the case of damage to the boundary.
Whichever way you look at it, a party wall agreement is not optional, so be clear on whether you need one before you do anything else.