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Party Walls Act


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More futile legislation

Our correspondent writes ...

We live in a country labouring under an increasing burden of useless legislation and the Party Walls Act must rank as one of the most useless.

Emanating from the office of perhaps the most useless minister in the Labour government - the deputy prime minister - this legislation, like many other Acts he has introduced, is more or less unenforceable unless you have cash to spare for a private action. Even then, the cost of such an action is likely to be completely disproportionate to any achievement.

In my case, my neighbour applied for permission to extend his house and, though both neighbours objected to the extent of the proposed works, permission was granted. I had no idea when the works might start but I knew they would have to be preceded by a party walls notification as foundations would have to be excavated on the boundary adjacent to my dining room and kitchen.

To my surprise, a massive Hitachi digger arrived one day and dug out the foundations which were immediately filled with concrete. I had not received the statutory notification so I immediately wrote a letter to my neighbour explaining that he had failed to comply with legal requirements and had therefore put us in dispute.

Using the terms of the Act, I appointed a surveyor at my neighbour's expense and he came in to inspect our property and take photographs. By this time, of course, I was completely disadvantaged because the damage to our property had already been done. New cracks had appeared on walls and ceilings in my house and this did not surprise me as the whole fabric of the house had been shaken severely when the digger was smashing up the old concrete drive. On one occasion, my children rushed down the stairs when the whole of the first floor was shaken violently. They were truly scared.

The works continued for about four months during which time the hammering and banging from next door was almost constant. I later learned that the house had been completely gutted. Floors had been taken up and replaced with uncarpeted timber; every internal wall had been stripped of plaster to be replaced with dry lining.

For many years previously, we had an elderly gent of 90 living next door to us. His hearing was failing yet we could barely hear his television even though the volume was turned high. Now we hear every word of conversation from next door; we hear the telephone every time it rings (which it does frequently); we hear every footstep in the house as the occupants walk across wooden floors. We are really pissed off!

Plaster acts as a sound barrier because it fills cracks in the brickwork; dry lining acts like an amplifier because the gaps between wall and plaster board act like miniature echo chambers. So why does the Party Wall Act not protect me from such aggravations?

Well, it doesn't because nobody really anticipated all the problems that neighbours with shared walls might experience. Worse, nobody is penalised for ignoring the Act's requirements so what is the point of having such an Act? This Act is ill-conceived and ill-planned - as long as it offers no legal protection, it is a complete waste of legislative space.

What it does offer, however, is a compensation plan with an award determined by the appointed surveyor - an award that cannot be disputed. In my case, the material damages were not limited to the building alone. My rear garden fence was destroyed, my car was damaged, my bedding plants were trampled, and the excavator sliced through the roots of long-established shrubs and bushes which subsequently died. When they died our privacy was destroyed. All this should be taken into account when the award is made.

When I finally received my letter from the surveyor, he had awarded 117. For that kind of money, I cannot even hire the services of a labourer to fill all the cracks and make good the decorations - let alone pay for the cost of materials. And to replace one bush at the front of my house will cost 150 - two were destroyed plus another five at the rear.

Sorry, Mr Prescott, but the Party Walls Act is a complete waste of space, much like yourself. If you can't analyse problems, don't dream up solutions. Unenforceable legislation is of no value.

Editorial Comment:

If you have been affected by poor legislation, please write in and let us know.


Visitors' Comments

Teresa Harrison, Watford writes:

Me and my husband are going through a terrible time. Our house was purchased in 1983. It is an Edwardian terrace property that was renovated in 1965 with the kitchen wall astride the boundary wall with obscure glazed windows - an established wall in other words.

While we were away, our next door neighbours, without our permission or consent, covered our glazed windows and kitchen wall with hardboard from their side. Then they covered the wall with plasterboard anchored beams and a polycarbonate roof through our kitchen roof thus encroaching our property. They also installed a door and side window. The result is a complete mirror image from the outside of our kitchen. However, what is deceiving is the fact that the wall and windows they have incorporated as part of an enclosed structure that is outside their property is actually our kitchen wall that has been rendered useless. We have dirty hardboard that we have no way of removing because we are imprisoned by their side.

Apparently our kitchen wall and windows, according to a surveyor, is a party wall because it sits astride the boundary garden wall. Also, apparently, the neighbours had every right to do it which I find disgraceful. Not only were we not consulted, this has caused noise pollution, trespass, criminal damage and a complete lack of regard to the value and look of our property and kitchen.

As I mentioned, the house was renovated in 1965 and the windows in the kitchen let natural light in to replace a window present prior to the renovation. As a result everything is perfect for the neighbours as they have retained the house in the previous condition which results in them have numerous doors and windows with natural light and plenty of escape routes in case of fire. But it has left us with a dark dismal dangerous prison.

Needless to say, my husband and I will be taking this higher it is an infringement on us and has caused us a lot of upset.


Alex Imlach, New Malden writes:

With party wall matters, the teeth they have are in the form of an injunction to stop the neighbour and make him comply with the act. The injunction will stop all work affecting the party wall until a notice is served, an agreement or award reached, including the appointment of a surveyor to look after your interests.


Editorial Comment:

But not a lot of use when the work affecting the party wall is completed before the notice is issued. And when the appointed surveyor's fees are paid by the person building the extension, loyalties can easily be misplaced (or bought). Quite apart from which, injunctions can prove to be very costly and have no guarantee of success.


Paul Johnson, Manchester writes:

You are all correct, the party wall act is a joke, for a number of reasons.

Firstly from the point of the person undertaking work: Do you :-

  1. spend several thousands of pounds on surveyors who, according to the act, are working on YOUR behalf so that you don't get sued by your neighbour for any damage caused.
  2. keep your several thousand pounds you would have spent on the surveyors (in YOUR BANK) in case the neighbour takes you to court!

In some cases the cost of getting a party wall agreement is not worth it for the person undertaking the work. If you are putting up a carport that costs 2,000 why would you spend 5,000 on a party wall agreement? It appears a nice little earner for the surveyors.

So this leaves people with the knowledge of the party wall act to do work "while you're on holiday"!

Secondly from the point of view of the neighbouring party, do you:-

  1. agree within 14 days of receiving the party wall agreement letter, or
  2. do you raise a dispute, knowing this will cost your neighbour thousands for a surveyor.

As the neighbour you also need to be careful of some surveyors. They have very high charges. You may think, 'Oh well that does not matter, the neighbour pays.' Well not always. Some surveyors charge excessive amounts knowing 9 times out of 10 they will get away with it. However they can and have been challenged, and successfully shown to be excessive. Who then picks up the 3,000 excessive charges! Yep ... you!

So, you want to stop the work with an injunction. This is a risk in some cases. You have to pay the costs of the injunction up front, and then claim it back. Wait, what if it turns out, like in the case above, there is only plastering going on, or foundations are only shallow, you will foot the bill again.

Basically the reason the party wall act does not work is that there are too many parties involved trying to make money out of it rather than actually protecting the interests of the parties concerned.

My advice is this:

  1. be friendly to your neighbours and talk about developments first.
  2. If you receive a party wall notice, then accept it. It does not mean you cannot claim for damage, and in some aspect strengthens your case.
  3. If you are undertaking work requiring a party wall notice, ignore it and do the work while the neighbours are on holiday. It saves you time and money and does not line the pockets of money grabbing surveyors!

Will of SE London writes:

One of the biggest problems seems to be opportunist companies who mail everyone and every neighbour when a planning application is made/granted. Local councils should not be allowed to sell this information.

ALWAYS use a Chartered Surveyor or Qualified structural Engineer where they should comply with professional ethics and standards. Using an unqualified person increases the risk of being ripped off. If you disagree with an award appeal it within 14 days to the county court. Surveyors should comply with the Act and DO NOT WORK FOR EITHER building Owner or Adjoining owner - their duty is to the Act. Awards should not be retrospective. Unlike the title "Architect" Surveyor is not a protected title and this has allowed cowboys to rip off people and give the properly qualified surveyors a bad name.


Barry Norman, London writes:

The party wall act must be followed for it to proceed so to the poor woman above these people did wrong. How dare they do this without your permission and while you were away, that is awful.

I have to say that it seems strange for a surveyor to come to this conclusion as it clearly is not a party wall and you certainly seem to think it is not. The party wall act is to prevent disputes and I fear many people are riding roughshod over their neighbours and are in fact obstructing and attaching to property with no regard or consideration to their neighbours' rights.


Chris Wren of Southampton writes:

I would like to publish my experience of a Party Wall Act scam to the tune of 55,000 in Liverpool!

As the Party Wall Act surveyors are prosecution, judge and jury rolled into one, they can award whatever they like! In my case with no evidence whatsoever!


Anna Thew of London W2 writes:

Our party wall case is a nightmare. We are now conversant with all kinds of case law. You speak of surveyors charting 117, ours was charging the neighbour 23,700 and when he didn't get his whack he started to blackmail us. I won't "sign off the project" etc. Try to explain an underpinning architect fraudster to the local CID. He required underpinning of an external wall on one side of our rear extension.

We went to court armed with engineering reports, harm to historic buildings, the lot. Solicitors arm in arm with surveyors from the Pyramus and Thisbe club stitched us up (all paid for by the lavish absent neighbour). After 6 years of blackmail we are now in court with 7 defendants - the party wall Thatcherite Kaball. Freemasonry abounds in the judiciary as on a building site of course I am a woman and fighting the lot of them.... the law HAS to be changed. Buildings are being ruined, lives trashed, cracks, kangos and absent neighbours, crack dementia settlement delirium. Each time I turn the key in the lock and have to kick the corner of the front door. I am not sure about the benefits of offloading into oblivion but would appreciate forming a lobby to alter the developers' charter .....

Meanwhile I would love my old house to be left as it was without the intervention the two year vibration the nervous grief and my lovely mouldings intact, which they are now not.


Al Miskelly of Brighton writes (on 31 March 2012):

I agree the party wall act has no teeth and that people can destroy property with no fear of the law. My neighbour built a raised deck without planning permission and it took nearly 4 years to get the deck removed and it was built on the boundary line to which we are legally responsible for. The raised deck was built on sloping ground with a supporting breeze block wall and un-rendered and the deck with handrail was 2.2 meters high, the wall still remains and they have attached a ply wood box with conifers planted within this box. There was no notice given under the Party Wall Act and my neighbour is now building a further breeze block wall along the boundary and again no notice given written or verbal.

I have spoken to him this morning and stated that he should have given us notice about the works and he replied that he was entitled to build the wall and that he does not have to give me any notice at all. Now I will have to seek legal advice to find out were I really stand as he does everything by stealth.


Rachel Webb of Shipston On Stour writes:

My parents are currently enduring an ongoing losing battle for around 12 months. Their neighbours started work without giving the necessary party wall notice. They have had a digger bucket (with a learner driver!) banging against the wall whist digging out the foundations, which weren't on the original plans. They broke through the party wall and replaced a so called rotten beam with a shallower concrete lintel, they even have their electric cables in their bedroom!
The party wall now has a void which is a fire risk, the actual wall itself is a piece of plasterboard, they can now hear everything, including the floor moving when the neighbours are walking upstairs.
They inserted a beam into the party wall in the loft to support a floor in their loft. According to the neighbours it was always there. It was never there before, the new bricks and fresh cement was a bit of a give away!
We have two party wall surveyors - theirs being totally unprofessional and dismissing the severity of it and taking the builders word instead of looking into it as he should.
The cracks are getting bigger every day, a bulge in the outside wall has now appeared. Their double glazed window panes have been replaced twice due to them cracking! They have had to defend themselves from day one through no fault of their own, they are the victims. The house they bought for their retirement has been destroyed and no-one cares!! The work has been done...the act is not worth the paper its written on, an absolute joke!



"Many men stumble across the truth ... but most manage to pick themselves up and continue as if nothing had happened."

Winston S Churchill


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