If you are planning to carry out any building works to your property which can include building a new party wall/fence (i.e. one which you would share with a neighbour), to carry out any works to an existing boundary wall or you want to undergo excavation works next to a neighbouring property, then the chances are that you will need to have regard to the framework laid down by the Party Wall etc Act 1996.
This legislation states that any person who intends to carry out works to a party wall must give notice of the intended works to their neighbour whose land abridges their own (‘an adjoining landowner). The adjoining landowner could agree or object to the works. If he/she does object to the works, then the Act provides a mechanism for you to reach an agreement.
You are required to give the adjoining landowner written notice of the works to include setting out your name and contact details, the property address, the scope of the proposed works and state when the works are due to start. Your neighbour can either agree, refuse or make no response.
If the adjoining landowner does not respond within 14 days, or serves a counter notice objecting to the works within 1 month, then there is deemed to be a dispute. If you still cannot reach an agreement, then the legislation provides that you appoint an ‘agreed surveyor’ to determine a ‘Party Wall Award’ where the scope and manner of works are agreed. If you still cannot agree then each party can appoint their own surveyor to attempt to reach agreement. The ‘Party Wall Award’ will set out who is liable to pay the surveyor(s)’ costs and the costs of the proposed works.
If you do not agree with the ‘Party Wall Award’ then there is a strict 14 day period (running from the date you are served with the ‘Party Wall Award’) to appeal the decision to the local county court. You ought to seek urgent legal advice before you do so since the Court will have power to order that you pay your neighbour’s costs were you to not succeed.
Failure to comply with the above could be costly since your neighbours could seek an injunction from the court to stop you carrying out the above. You could also be ordered to pay compensation if the works have caused damage or encroached onto your neighbour’s land. You may also be liable to pay your neighbour’s legal costs in pursuing the legal action. It is therefore very important that you follow the correct procedure.
You should also bear in mind that even if the works are agreed, your neighbour can still take legal action in the future were you to cause damage to their land. You are still required to avoid unnecessary inconvenience (i.e. works carried out at reasonable times of the day and noise kept to a reasonable limit) or to provide temporary protection for adjacent buildings and property where necessary.
You should be mindful, that even if you reach an agreement as set out above, you may need to obtain planning permission and/or building regulation consent from the local authority. You should contact the relevant department of the local authority before you do any work. Please bear in mind that even if you do not need these permissions from the local authority, you may still need to have regard to the Party Wall Act.
If you are in doubt as to the above, then please seek independent legal advice.