Building and Adjoining Owners’ Rights to Either Demolish or Repair a Potential Party Wall

by The Party Wall Surveyor

Question

My query relates to a garden wall that adjoins a neighbour’s garden.  Our house is some years older than the neighbours’ house, and on our original deeds it indicates that the wall is our responsibility (of course, the neighbouring property didn’t exist at this time, and is marked on the original deeds simply as “Land of the lessor”).
 
Another point to note is that the neighbouring property is at a considerably lower level than ours – there is a drop of probably some 15 to 20 feet from the top of the wall down to their ground level.  At some point in the past, the foundation stones of the wall have been exposed on their side and are visible for the first few feet of their wall from ground level up.  On our side, the garden consists of soil beds at the boundary, with expensive specimen trees planted in that area.
 
There is a potential problem arising in that a new owner has purchased the neighbouring property, and I have overheard them having a conversation with a builder about demolishing the wall.  The wall has moved a few inches in places in the past, and being very old, has bowed in places, but there is no obvious indication that the wall has moved any further in recent years, and certainly not in the 15 years that we have lived here.  At this time, I am not entirely sure why they think it is necessary to demolish the wall – they could be concerned about safety or aesthetics, or from the conversation I heard they could be considering building a structure (a conservatory, perhaps) right up to the boundary.
 
Before I have a conversation with them about their plans, I wish to get my facts straight about the situation.
 
Firstly, given what I have said about the original deeds, do you believe this wall is still my sole responsibility, or would the situation have changed when a property was built on the adjoining land?
 
Secondly, am I responsible for maintenance of the wall right down to the foundations, even though I cannot easily gain access to their property?
 
Thirdly, if there is a query on the safety of the wall, who is responsible for making the case for its structural soundness or otherwise?  If the neighbour obtains a surveyor’s opinion that the wall is unsafe, could I ultimately be forced to rebuild the wall at my own expense?

Answer

If the wall is your responsibility then your neighbours do not have any right to demolish it. If they intend to build a structure then it can come up to the boundary wall but not replace it without your consent.

You will be responsible for keeping the wall in a safe and sound condition. If there is no right of access to the neighbour’s property in the deeds and they refuse to give consent then you will have to get a court order under the Access to Neighbouring Property Act to maintain it.
 
It sounds as though this is something that could be worked out by agreement. If the wall is in need of repair then perhaps you could allow them to demolish it and replace it with the side wall of their building. That would make their build easier and save you the cost and hassle of repairing the wall.