What is a party wall survey?
Party wall surveys are an investigation into the potential disruption / damage caused to a neighbour or neighbour’s property when an individual decides on a home renovation project that includes a shared structure.
While this primarily concerns shared walls within terraced or semi-detached housing, it can also be relevant to floors shared between flats or apartments or excavation work near dividing fences, as well as any work concerning shared systems, such as drainage works. A more correct term covering all potential eventualities of shared floors, walls or housing elements is party structures, or simply shared structures.
The law requires an individual planning on home renovation that impacts a shared party structure to have a professional survey completed that investigates any potential damage or impact, and this includes any impact on the drainage system. A professional CCTV drain survey, drain mapping and investigation should be the first step.
Party Wall Drainage Surveys
While this is partly done to ensure that no unintentional harm is caused to shared drainage systems, it can also be helpful for the individual as it gives an overview of the general condition of pipework and drains. Expert drain surveyors can inspect pipework and drainage with a minimum of disruption via CCTV equipment that can investigate the full extent of the system, and identify any concerns or potential issues.
This can mean that any pre-existing damage or weakness is not attributed to the planned work and gives an element of defence against blame.
In 1996 the Party Wall etc. Act came into force, initially this primarily covered London properties before moving nationwide in 1997. This little-known act covers nearly 25% of UK properties and is an important step in reducing disruption. It allows both parties the opportunity to weigh in on potential issues and is a required step that must be fully completed before a legal renovation can take place.
The Party Wall Process
Party wall surveys can be a fairly complex process. The initial step is to serve a notice on any affected neighbours. Affected parties may include those that share a wall or drainage system, have an interest in a wall or boundary or own a structure at a distance of under three metres (in certain cases, under six metres).
Step 1 – Notice
Before the actual survey is to be completed, the notice must be served. This should be done at least two months before works are due to begin if the work is focusing on a party wall or structure, or one month prior to excavation or foundation work, this includes most drainage works. While this is the first legal step, an initial informal conversation can be beneficial to both parties in maintaining civility during the process.
It should also be considered that if the notice is later found to be incorrect, the entire process can be deemed non-lawful, so professional advice is recommended for this step.
Step 2 – Consent
After the notice has been served, the neighbour has an obligation to respond in writing within a fortnight.
Consenting to the notice means that the neighbour gives their agreement for the proposed work to continue, although future objections may be made during the planning process. Affected parties also have the right to initiate their own survey of their property or systems concerned, known as a Schedule of Condition.
If a neighbour wishes to dispute the notice, this will mean a Party Wall Award is required.
Party Wall Awards
Party Wall Awards are produced by an Agreed Surveyor, with the neighbour’s right to appoint an Adjoining Owner Surveyor. These awards are essentially legal permissions to begin the proposed work. Agreed Surveyors are required by law to act impartially and may be appointed by both sides without a conflict of interest.
Dissenting to a notice does not mean that a neighbour wishes to stop renovation plans altogether, it simply means a Party Wall Award is requested. Those who wish to halt plans altogether can do this through the local planning authority.
If a neighbour does not reply after 14 days, the case is seen to be in dispute and a Surveyor will be required, although this does not disrupt the proposed start date of renovation.
Works that require a Party Wall Survey
A variety of works are excluded from the Party Wall etc. Act, such as minor renovations and repairs. This includes installing new shelves, repairing or inserting new wall sockets, re-plastering walls or other similar works that are seen as non-invasive. These require no notice or survey.
Larger works that do require a survey include:
- Foundation excavations within three metres of a neighbouring property (eg. for access to drainage systems)
- Foundation excavations within six metres, below an angle of forty-five degrees in regards to the bottom of the foundation
- Cutting into or adapting a wall or bearing beam
- Replacing or rebuilding a party wall in part or whole
- Raising or underpinning an existing wall
- Creating a new wall on the divide between two properties
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