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Party Walls and Adjacent Excavations A Summary of the Party Wall Etc Act 1996

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A Summary of the Party Wall Etc Act 1996

This Act grants rights to a building owner to construct walls enclosing his/her land at or astride the boundary and to place ordinary foundations astride the boundary so as to enclose the land to the fullest extent possible rather than have to give away land or leave space unused to an adjoining owner.

This Act also grants rights to a building owner to carry out work to repair, alter, raise or reduce the height of a wall or other structure separating the lands (and in some cases the storeys of a building) in teh control of different owners.

Furthermore, this Act gives rights to and imposes obligations on a building owner when carrying out excavations adjacent to the foundations of an adjacent structure being within at least six metres (about twenty feet) of those excavations.

Under the Act, the building owner can only acquire these rights to develop its land if it serves a notice or notices containing the prescribed information to each and every adjoining owner entitled to such notices and allows these notices to run without a dispute arising.

In the event that any one or more adjoining owner disputes a notice, even if such a dispute is passive, then both owners in such dispute shall each immediately appoint a surveyor, or if they agree, they can both appoint the same surveyor to settle the matter in dispute and prepare an Award which is binding on both parties for the duration of the works.

Once a surveyor is appointed, his or her role being quasi-judicial and any Award issued by the surveyor is valid at any court of law as final and binding, the surveyor cannot be replaced or overruled except if such surveyor voluntarily stands aside or for some other impediment becomes incapable of performing the required duties.

The Act's purpose is to ensure that the building owner is assured reasonable rights to develop its property within the constraints of techincal and aesthetic statutory controls, to the fullest extent without fear of injunction or other obstruction by an adjoining owner minded to thwart such development.  Equally, the Act gives powers to the independent tribunal, the tow appointed or one agreed surveyor, to establish by Award a specific code for the execution of the works such as to avoid disturbance beyond what is absolutely necessary to complete the works the building owner has rights to do under the Act and to compensate the adjoining owner, and where necessary any other occupiers who are not otherwise owners within the meaning of the Act for the inconvenience and disruption that the works will give rise to.

Correct use of this Act can, for instance,

  1. Allow extensions between terraced and semi-detached houses to be built directly in line with the existing party wall line between two properties and thereby avoiding the creation of a void between two adjacent extensions. 
  2. Allow an existing garden wall between two properties to be used as or replaced by a wall enclosing an extension or outbuilding.
  3. Allow an existing wall exceeding two metres in height separating adjoining owners' land to be reduced to two metres in height if neither side need the wall to remain at the extended height.
  4. Protect from subsidence an existing structure on adacent land and thereby prevent later civil action to remedy damage to a building likely to be caused by the excavations undertaken in connection with adjacent work.

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