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Navigating Party Walls: Essential Advice for Prospective Home Buyers

<strong>Navigating Party Walls: Essential Advice for Prospective Home Buyers</strong>

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For anyone in the UK looking to buy a home, the concept of a party wall may not be the first thing that springs to mind. However, understanding what a party wall is and the legalities surrounding it is critical before committing to a property purchase. 

This article aims to demystify party walls, offering essential advice to prospective home buyers to ensure that they are informed and prepared for any issues that may arise.

Understanding Party Walls

A party wall is a dividing partition between two adjoining properties that is shared by the owners of each property. It can include the walls between terraced and semi-detached houses, or the floor between flats or apartments. In England and Wales, party wall matters are governed by the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, which provides a framework for preventing and resolving disputes related to party walls, boundary walls, and excavations near neighbouring buildings.

Identifying a Party Wall in Your Prospective Property

When viewing properties, it’s sensible to ascertain whether a shared wall constitutes a party wall. This can usually be determined by the property’s layout or by speaking directly with the estate agent. It may also be detailed in the property deeds, which can be examined during the conveyancing process.

Your Rights and Responsibilities

Understanding your rights and responsibilities regarding a party wall is paramount. The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 grants specific rights, but with those come responsibilities. For example, you must not cause unnecessary inconvenience, must offer temporary protection for adjacent buildings and properties during works, and must compensate your neighbours for any damage caused by the work.

The Party Wall Notice

If you plan to carry out work that affects a party wall, you need to give adjoining owners notice. The kind of notice and how long in advance it must be served can vary depending on the work being carried out. Straightforward work such as drilling to hang shelves will not need a notice, but more significant work like cutting into a wall to insert a damp proof course, building a new wall at the boundary, or demolishing and rebuilding a party wall, will require a notice.

Engaging a Party Wall Surveyor

In many cases, it’s wise to engage the services of a party wall surveyor. These are professionals who specialise in party wall issues and can act impartially for both parties. A surveyor can be particularly helpful if you think your proposed work will cause a dispute or if your neighbour has raised concerns regarding the work.

Handling Disputes

Should a dispute arise between you and your neighbour over party wall matters, the Act outlines procedures for resolving these issues. In essence, both parties will select a party wall surveyor, or agree to appoint one surveyor jointly. 

The surveyor will then draw up a Party Wall Award, which is a legal document outlining the rights and responsibilities of both parties. It’s important to note that the costs of resolving a dispute through a surveyor, including the surveyor’s fees, are typically borne by the party instigating the works.

The Bottom Line

Party wall matters can be quite complex, and the importance of understanding and following the correct procedures cannot be understated. Failing to do so can lead to delays, increased costs, and even legal action. 

As a prospective home buyer, being aware of the existence of party walls and any work potentially affecting them is an important aspect of due diligence. If you are in any doubt, consulting with a solicitor or specialist party wall surveyor can provide peace of mind and potentially save a great deal of trouble further down the line.

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