Maintenance of an Exposed Party Wall

by The Party Wall Surveyor

Question

This relates to 2 commercial properties, an open depot owned by my family and a single storey office block owned by another company. Our property has a tenant on a long term full repairing lease and we understand the office block is also rented.

We understand that in the late 90’s, prior to our ownership, our site underwent extensive renovation and development. Part of this work involved the demolition of a brick built shed, the back wall of which was also the external side of the back wall of the above mentioned office block. The roof of the shed adjoined the back edge of the office thereby affording the office building a high degree of protection from the elements. This is an unusual arrangement but had been in place for many years prior, apparently with the agreement of all parties.

The shed on our site was demolished, including removal of the roof, and a new single story workshop was constructed approx. 1.5m away from the back wall of the office. This section of wall now forms a small part of the boundary line between the two properties. We understand that a party wall agreement was entered in to at the time of the development work and any necessary works were undertaken to ensure the office wall was waterproof. Indeed, we are not aware of any problems during the ensuing period. Unfortunately, we do not have a copy of the PWA.

However, we have recently heard from the current owners of the office block via their solicitor that damp is now penetrating the wall in question and that we are being held responsible on the grounds that as the current owner (although not the owner who did the work) we are responsible for removal of the shed and its roof and this action has led to the damp problem. We have made them aware that the roof and shed were removed more than15 years ago.

Therefore we would like to know if the original PWA has any relevance in this situation and, if so, is there a register of all party agreements available from which we could obtain a copy. As a final point, do you have an opinion as to who might be responsible for the damp problem.

Answer

First of all, there is no central record of party wall agreements.

Regarding the current problem, I can’t see how you would be responsible for the damp issue unless it’s being caused by something that is happening on your side of the wall (such as bridging of the damp-proof course).

It’s most likely that the affected wall was a ‘Type B’ party wall and as such your predecessor will have had to serve notice when it was exposed to the elements by demolition. The award will have included a provision for permanently weather-proofing the exposed wall to protect it from the elements (in accordance with section 2(2)(m) of the Act). Once it was no longer enclosed on your side it was no longer a party wall and your liabilities ceased (beyond fulfilling the provisions of the award).

If it is a ‘Type A’ party wall the same weather-proofing requirement would have applied when it was exposed but it will remain a party wall. However, the costs of maintaining a party wall (see section 2(2)(b) of the Act) are apportioned according to the ‘use made’ (see section 11(5)) and as the wall is now only being used by your neighbour they would pay 100% of the costs.