Question

What I wanted to ask you was is my neighbour allowed to start work? If she is I’m absolutely unhappy with that as I am home self isolating all the time and it would be horrendous living next door to all that noise.

Note – this question was submitted during the Coronavirus crisis.

Answer

As it stands, the Government guidance does not prevent building works from being undertaken so long as social distancing can be maintained. Works may therefore proceed and any right of access over your property to undertake the works still stands. Access is, as always, subjects of 14 days’ notice in writing.

I don’t know the background to your case, but if there is a party wall award in place it would typically include safeguards relating to access such as the erection of a temporary hoarding. You would need to remain indoors while the hoarding is erected but that should take no more than a couple of hours and once it is in place works should be able to continue without compromising your self-isolation.

It is generally accepted that building works will cause a certain degree of noise disturbance and unfortunately this must be accepted by the adjoining owners during normal working hours (typically between 8:00am and 6:00pm Monday to Friday and 8:00am and 1:00pm on Saturdays). I appreciate that this does not help neighbours who are at home during the day but that is not unusual even during normal times.

Despite building works not being prohibited by the current restrictions there are practical issues which may arise e.g. it is increasingly difficult to arrange for the delivery of materials to site and many Building Control departments are either operating on reduced hours or not at all. It’s therefore possible that the building owners may decide to put the works on hold until the restrictions have been lifted.    

Question

My neighbour will be starting work on a side return extension shortly and I am concerned about the water drainage and the build over of any pipe work. I understand that this is a separate agreement and part of the building control works. Is there anyway we can request/caveat that we want to see approved documentation for these works?

Answer

Drainage is covered by the Building Regulations and will therefore be checked and signed off by the Building Inspector. If they are within building within 3 metres of a public sewer a ‘build over agreement‘ will be required from the local water authority and they will undertake their own checks.

The party wall surveyor(s) can only consider how your below ground drainage might be affected by the notified works which, in practical terms, will be the excavation. This would take 2 forms, either directly if a shared drain is being altered or in the longer term by damage as a result of ground movement. 

The surveyors should limit the amount of time that a shared drain should be temporarily bunged and ensure that there is sufficient capacity in the pipework for this not to become an issue. 

Surveyors will often include a requirement in the award for the building owner to arrange a pay for a CCTV scan of the adjacent below ground drainage before and after the works. If there is a real risk of ground movement such would be a sensible precaution that protects both owners.    

Question 

The fence between mine and my neighbour’s garden is in very poor condition with parts of it having broken away completely. Now my neighbour is planning to build a rear extension and has sent me a notice. If I appoint a surveyor will they mark out the boundary so that there’s no confusion? 

Answer 

I need to make a distinction between confirming where the boundary line is so that it does not inadvertently move during the works and a boundary dispute. 

Appointed party wall surveyors cannot determine a boundary. If there is a dispute over the location of the boundary that is critical to the works the dispute should be resolved before the works proceed. The RICS has a neighbour dispute service to help neighbours resolve property disputes and maintain harmony without the need for intervention by the courts. It’s possible that a party wall award could be agreed and served without a boundary dispute being resolved but the wording would need to be amended to confirm that the true position of the boundary was unknown and any drawings should make clear that the boundary line shown is nominal. 

If your concern is that the accepted boundary position may become blurred during the works that is something that the appointed surveyors can assist with. I suggest including a clause in the award along the following lines: 

Prior to constructing the wall described in clause X of this award, [The building owner is to] agree the location of the boundary with the adjoining owner and confirm with an indelible mark on the rear wall of the property. 

Where there is a party wall dividing the two properties in question the boundary will generally be at its centre and that can be easily transferred onto the rear wall.

Question

We have produced some basic layouts for the client and they have found a builder themselves to do the works. The property is a flat in the semi- detached house. The flat is at the ground floor with the neighbours living at the first and second floors. 

The contractor has raised an opening to an internal wall slightly higher than the existing- but there has been a pre-existing opening in that place. Is there a party wall issue? It is something has not really crossed out minds naturally as the works are so simplistic in nature, there are no structural engineers involved and it is client managed. But in order to protect the client, would you say a notification or anything else they should do as a precaution right now?

Answer 

When considering internal changes to a flat it’s best to consider the Party Wall Act in terms of internal structures i.e. where are the party structures in relation to the change? As the change is to an internal wall within a ground floor flat in this case, the only relevant party structure is the one above i.e. the ceiling/floor structure that divides the clients’ flat from the flat above. You then need to review section 2 of the Act (the part that deals with party structures) and consider whether the changes affect the party structure in any of the ways described in that section. 

Looking at the photos that you sent, the new opening does not appear to extend all the way up to the party structure (the ceiling). The work would not therefore be covered by the Party Wall Act. 

The only other point to bear in mind is the lease terms, all leases include an alteration clause i.e. a clause requiring the freeholder’s consent for material changes. It may be worth checking the wording of that clause to see whether this change is covered. If it is the client would have to apply for a Licence to Alter. That is generally done in advance but can be done retrospectively.

Party Wall Notice Served While on Holiday

by The Party Wall Surveyor

Question

Our neighbours’ furniture is being moved out piece by piece, which suggests they are moving out ahead of work starting to their property rather than holidaying somewhere. However, we have had no official notification. We’re due to go away ourselves in a few days and are worried that the party wall notice might arrive while we are on holiday. Is there anything we can do? 

Answer

From the date notice is served you will have 14 days to confirm your consent – if you do not respond (because you are away) you will be deemed to have dissented and must appoint a surveyor. Following the deemed dissent, your neighbour is obliged to write to you again requesting that you provide surveyor’s details within a further 10 days. So that’s 14 days + 10 days (+ 2 days for each stage if documents sere served by post) – you don’t say how long you will be away for but if it is longer that 24 days I’d suggest that you either provide your neighbour with an email address for service or nominate someone to receive the notice on your behalf (possibly the surveyor that you intend to appoint). 

If you do fail to respond or provide surveyor’s details when requested your neighbour still cannot just proceed with the works – they will have to appoint a surveyor to act for you (not the same surveyor that they have appointed). That surveyor should act no differently to how they would if you’d chosen them yourself.  

Is Leak Caused by my Neighbour’s Works

by The Party Wall Surveyor

Question

My neighbour recently undertook some works and at about the same time I noticed a leak to my conservatory roof. I cannot find where the water is coming in from but it’s too much of a coincidence for it not to be related to the works. Is it my neighbour’s responsibility to investigate? He doesn’t seem to think so.  

Answer

If you believe the leak to be related to party wall works (I should stress that is the work covered by the Party Wall Act rather than the general works) and your neighbour is denying responsibility you have the option to refer the matter to the appointed surveyors for determination. The risk with this course of action is that the surveyors determine that there is no link and that you not only end up paying to make good the damage caused by the leak but also the surveyors’ fees. 

Referring a dispute to surveyors can be time-consuming so the priority should be to resolve the leak thereby removing the risk of further damage and mitigating your losses. With that in mind, I would suggest organising the repair yourself but recommend that you ask the contractor to write a brief report providing their opinion on the cause (and take photos if inaccessible). This needn’t be anything comprehensive, just a couple of lines written on the invoice. 

The contractor’s opinion will help you decide whether the defect is actually related to the party wall works and, if so, will be an important piece of evidence that should be passed to the surveyors (it may even encourage the building owner to accept responsibility and avoid the need for surveyors’ involvement at all).

Calculating a Loss When a Crack Widens

by The Party Wall Surveyor

Question

I consented to my neighbour’s works on the understanding that I should not suffer as a consequence. Many of the existing cracks have widened but my neighbour is saying because they are existing they are not his responsibility. Can this be correct?

Answer

Certain rights under the Act, such as cutting in to a party wall, come with an obligation to make good damage, while others, such as excavating close to a neighbour’s property do not. However, the building owner (the party undertaking the works) is responsible for any loss or damage caused by their works. The distinction may appear technical but it’s relevant to your query. 

If a crack has widened as a result of the works it is unquestionably damage and as such the building owner has a duty to make good. Importantly, it also follows that you, as an adjoining owner, can elect to receive a payment in lieu of making good (see section 11(8) of the Act). 

If there is no duty on the building owner to make good they will only be responsible for the loss suffered as a result of the works. The ‘loss’ when an existing crack widens slightly is always difficult to assess – it does not cost any more to make it good so the more relevant point is whether, as a result of the crack widening, it has become more urgent to make it good and redecorate. 

Question

My neighbours are extending in to their basement. Recently the drilling work has intensified and I’ve noticed a crack in the hallway. Should they be using a lower level of force in the drilling i.e. so the house is not shaking and creating cracks as they go?

Answer

You don’t say whether there is a party wall award in place but if there is the appointed surveyor(s) should have considered ways in which they could reduce the risk of damage. A typical safeguard would be to prohibit the use of percussive tools (such as hammer drills, kangos etc.) on works directly affecting the party wall. Vibration can carry from works on other parts of the property, over which the party wall surveyors have no control, to the party wall and cause vibration but that would be less intense than work directly to the party wall.

Even if you consented to the works and there’s no party wall award you may want to suggest this safeguard – it is in the building owner’s interest to avoid damage.

The Act gives you the option of either allowing the building owner (or their contractor) to make good the damage or receiving a payment in lieu. This applies whether or not there is a party wall award and if there is a dispute relating to that damage you have the right to appoint a surveyor.  If the heavy work is ongoing it may be best to deal with this later in case there is further damage.

If there is a party wall award in place which prohibits the use of percussive tools but it is being ignored it is more a matter of enforcement – I would suggest that you raise it via your appointed surveyor in the first instance but if that doesn’t work the only remedy is an injunction (although I would recommend you seek legal advice before going down that route).

Shared Chimneys in a State of Disrepair

by The Party Wall Surveyor

Question 

I have been reading your article on repairing/removing shared chimney stacks on your website which has been very helpful.  You mention that a Party Wall Notice is not required when removing a chimney, but is required for the remedial work when removing part of the shared chimney. Is a Party Wall Notice required when rebuilding the head of a chimney, and repairing the mid feathers? (There are a few courses in the mid feather missing, and some remaining bricks overhanging.) 

Answer 

The same principle applies to both parts of your question – the repair works are only be notifiable under the Act if they affect the wall dividing your flues from your neighbour’s flues. If you wanted to rebuild the whole of the head that could only be done in agreement with your neighbour. Looking at the condition of the head of the stack, re-building it jointly with your neighbour would be the best option.

Question 

Just so I know, what exactly does the party wall award grant that is different from the schedule of condition and our assurance that if our work caused any new issues then we would rectify it? 

Answer 

A schedule of condition is a written record (usually supported by photographs) of the parts of an adjoining property that are likely to be impacted upon should anything go wrong with a building owner’s works.  It can be referred back either during or following the works should there be a claim for damages against the building owner (in a similar way to how a dilapidations claim is assessed on a commercial property). 

A party wall award is the document that is produced by appointed surveyors to resolve a dispute between owners where there has been a dissent to the party wall notice(s). An award will generally include a schedule of condition which may be why the two things are sometimes confused. 

Where an adjoining owner consents to a party wall notice they will sometimes do so on condition that the building owner pays a surveyor to schedule the condition of their property. The building owner will generally be happy with such a response as the costs of having one surveyor record a schedule of condition is considerably less that two surveyors agreeing an award.  

This article gives a succinct overview of party wall procedures.