Neighbourly disputes, as the name suggests, are disputes between two or more neighbours about boundary and other related issues.
Party wall disputes are a subset of neighbourly disputes.
The peculiar thing with party wall disputes is that you can have a dispute with a neighbour without even realising it. At least at the beginning…
Indeed, if you decide to convert your loft or build an extension and let your builder or architect deal with everything without too much involvement they may deal with your party wall obligations on your behalf.
This isn’t a bad thing if (i) they know their way around the Party Wall Etc. Act 1996; (ii) issue enforceable notices; and (iii) are lucky enough to hear back from your neighbours.
If you let someone else deal with your party wall duties you may find out that your neighbours, having no connection nor interest in your renovation project, have completely ignored all correspondence on the matter.
Your builder or architect, juggling 50 other similar projects, has no time to chase or keep you updated. As a result, and as per the default position under the Party Wall Act, a party wall dispute now exists between the two (or more) of you.
The good news is that the Party Wall Act is designed to help you achieve your renovation project whilst providing your neighbours certain legal comfort. The bad news is that this exercise can make a serious dent into your building project cost projections and this financial impact needs to be included into your budget from the outset.
Depending on the outcome and the number of neighbours your extension works will affect, this can cost you up to five-figures. If you want to read more about the financial aspect of party wall we have another article titled: what a party wall agreement costs.
In order to help you save money and grief, here are three tips to help you avoid party wall disputes.
Talk to your neighbours
It may sound obvious but communication is key when dealing with neighbourly matters like party walls.
The lack of communication between neighbours was put into perspective in a recent poll which found that more than 50% of the respondents barely said a word to their neighbours and nearly 70% described their neighbours as “strangers”.
This illustrates the need to go talk to your neighbours and explain what your extension, loft conversion or basement excavation plans are. The more they understand about it, the less likely they are to panic and go into defensive mode.
Once planning permission has been granted, go visit the neighbours that are likely to be affected by your future works. These neighbours are first and foremost the people you share a wall with (the party wall). The ones you don’t necessarily share a wall with but whose property is adjacent to yours may need to be contacted too depending on the nature of the works. This is important if your works involve digging foundations for example.
When you know who those people are, take your architect’s drawings with you and go introduce yourself (especially if you have never done so before). Taking drawings with you will help your neighbours visualise your grand plan and understand your dream. This will help them empathise and will come in handy when things get tougher.
Once you’ve shown them the dream, explain the reality of what the works will involve. That includes noise, dust, potential scaffolding in their face and, of course, party wall issues. Try to understand the party wall process as much as possible so you can answer their questions (if you are reading this, you are on the right track).
Tell them you will have to issue formal party wall notices and that you will come back to hand them over in the next few weeks. Make sure you tell them these documents require a response from them within 14 days, so they know they will have to understand what it is all about and be proactive about it.
Create party wall notices yourself
You can ask a party wall surveyor to deal with everything from the moment you’ve spoken to your neighbours but in order to keep in control of the process we suggest you prepare the notices yourself.
Preparing party wall notices yourself will force you to understand what they are, how your works will impact their content and how they will affect your neighbours. This learning curve will also help you in case your neighbour dissents to your works and you have to go down the party wall agreement or award route. If you don’t know what a party wall award is, please read our short article here: what is a party wall award?
It can be a daunting task if you don’t know anything about construction or the party wall act. This is why we developed a tool that will guide you through creating your own party wall notices without hassle. The tool is designed for people who have no knowledge of construction, design or the party wall act. And if you still require help throughout the process you can contact us if need be.
It is, however, your responsibility to figure out who your neighbours are. You can do so by doing a Land Registry search against your neighbouring properties. The Land Registry’s website is very user friendly.
Once you are happy with the notices, sign them and give them to your neighbours in person.
Explain what the party wall notices and their acknowledgement forms say and what your neighbours are supposed to do with them.
Please stress the fact that you need a written response from them within 14 days (that’s calendar days – meaning including weekends). If you don’t hear from them in that timeframe you will need to go see them again, hence why it is important for you to stay on their case.
Stay on your neighbours’ case and keep them in the loop
The final tip on avoiding party wall disputes is a continuation of points one and two above. The reason why you want to stay on your neighbours’ case is because of the deadlines imposed by the party wall act.
Remember when we said that you needed to tell your neighbours that they should try to respond within 14 days? This is an important point because in the event your neighbours haven’t responded to your party wall notice within 14 days, they are given an extra 10 day notice to reply otherwise their response will be implied by the party wall act and a deemed dispute will have arisen.
What does that mean for you? It means that you should contact the neighbours that you haven’t heard back from and tell them, preferably in writing, that they have 10 extra days to respond by returning the acknowledgement form provided with your notice (this is included in the party wall notices generated using our tool).
If these neighbours still ignore you, they will have dissented to your works. Not that they chose to but that’s the default position under the party wall act in this scenario.
This means that you will have to appoint a surveyor.
The surveyor will take a look at the notices you’ve issued and help with the rest of the process including preparing the party wall award. If your neighbours decide to appoint their own surveyor you will have to cover their party wall surveyor’s reasonable costs.
Even if this is the case, the silver lining is that you will still have saved a few hundreds of pounds by preparing the party wall notices yourself and learnt a lot in the process!