Before you do any work that will impact on a wall that you share with a neighbour - whether it's in your living room or loft, you should find out if you need a party wall agreement. Here's what you need to know.
By Gordon Miller
Walls shared by adjacent properties are usually jointly owned by the two owners and are termed party walls. However, a party wall isn't only the wall between two semi-detached properties, it is also a: wall forming part of only one building but which is on the boundary line between two (or more) properties; a wall which is common to two (or more) properties, including where someone has built a wall and a neighbour has subsequently built something butting up to it; a garden wall, where the wall is astride the boundary line (or butts up against it) and is used to separate the properties but is not part of any building; the floors and ceilings of flats, apartments, and maisonettes.
If you share a party wall you have a legal responsibility when it comes to carrying out certain works. In fact there is a Party Wall Act 1996 that came into force in 1997 that gives right and responsibilities to both sides sharing a party wall when one or other party wall owner is planning or undertaking work on the said party wall.
You don't need to notify anyone if you are only doing small jobs, such as putting up shelves and wall units, replastering, or electrical rewiring, for example.
The types of work covered by the Party Wall Act 1996 include: demolishing and/or rebuilding a party wall, increasing the height or thickness of a party wall; inserting a damp proof course; cutting into the party wall to take load bearing beams; underpinning a party wall.
If you think that any work you are proposing might have an effect upon the structural strength or support function of the party wall, or might cause damage to the neighbouring side of the wall, notification must be made. If in doubt, advice should be sought from a local Building Control Office or professional surveyor/architect.
It would be advisable to discuss your plans with your neighbour first. You may find that they have no objections, or would go halves with you on the work because they consider the job needs doing, too. Even if they are not 100% supportive of your decision they will no doubt appreciate being asked for their opinion. Regardless of whether they agree to the work being undertaken, and if the planned work to an existing structure falls under the Party Wall Act, formal notice must be served.
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