As a homeowner, you have the right to renovate or build upon your property as long as you have proper permission from the local planning authorities… Oh, and your neighbours.
Thanks to the Party Wall Act of 1996, any alterations to a wall or fence on the boundary of two homes requires the property owner to obtain consent from their adjoining neighbour first. Neighbours are not obliged to consent immediately, and if they are not happy with the plans can instead pursue the drawn-out process of making an agreement through an appointed surveyor.
The good news is that this makes the process fair for both parties – the homeowner has every right to build on their home, but not by unduly disrupting their neighbour’s peace and quiet. The bad news? Surveyors fees fall to the homeowner proposing the construction, so a party wall dispute can get rather expensive.
If you’re planning construction works on a party wall, follow these five steps to improve your chances of obtaining consent quickly and smoothly, and save yourself a pretty penny.
Have a Conversation
Suddenly being served with a very official-looking notice (complete with a cover letter, technical drawings and acknowledgment forms), can seem both daunting and unfriendly. If your proposed construction is within the scope of permitted development, the planning office have no need to forewarn your neighbours that work is going to take place, and your letter will turn up entirely out of the blue.
The easiest step to keep the following negotiations amicable is to give your neighbours a “heads up” yourself. As soon as you start planning work – or at least when the first drawings are ready – give them a call or knock on their door to find a time to meet and talk about your proposals. It will set an approachable tone throughout the proceedings, and an informed neighbour tends to be a happy neighbour.
Offer to Cover their Schedule of Condition
If your neighbour seems worried that your project will cause damage to their property, take the opportunity to appear more generous to your neighbours, while saving yourself some money in the long run.
The best way to document the current condition of their home is to have a Schedule of Condition conducted by a surveyor. According to the Party Wall Act, all reasonable surveyor fees are covered by the party serving notice.
Make an early offer to arrange the schedule of condition for them, to be conducted by the surveyor you already have working for you. This will satisfy the requirements of the Act while saving you the hefty fee of paying two separate surveyors (a significantly greater cost than a standalone schedule of condition).
Pay Attention to Their Objections
Nobody wants their home life to be disrupted, particularly not for several weeks at a time. To prevent a dispute, try to be understanding of your neighbours’ concerns, and take reasonable steps to demonstrate that you will be as accommodating as possible.
Would it be possible to amend your plans slightly? Tweaking the size of your extension or shifting the schedule by a couple of day may be all it takes to please your neighbour and get guaranteed consent. Look for any “easy wins” where a certain aspect of your proposal particularly bothers your neighbour, but isn’t critical to you.
Common concerns include perceived risks to small children or pets, particularly if boundary walls are being temporarily removed. A simple way to overcome this would be to provide them with an architect’s drawing of a hoarding or fence that will be positioned over the gap between properties while the work is carried out.
Provide Clear Drawings
While you don’t need to attach drawings to a party wall notice, it’s highly recommended that you provide some sort of visualisation. After all, you’re asking your neighbours to provide consent for you to potentially affect their property, and if you can supply them with an idea of what the finished result will look like, they will feel more comfortable about the scope of the work.
Don’t worry about sending over technical blueprints if you don’t have them yet; your neighbours don’t need to know the exact location of your radiators. Just be transparent about the work which is covered by the Party Wall Act and try to include at least some parts of their property to give them an idea of scale and positioning.
Serve Your Notice Early
Having your trades lined up and being completely ready to start your project is a recipe for disaster if you haven’t served notice yet.
Don’t expect your adjoining neighbours to give their approval overnight, or even over the weekend. They will probably want to seek professional advice from a surveyor, and appoint a representative for their interests during the work. It’s a big decision and attempting to rush your neighbours is more likely to result in dissent and stall your work for longer than necessary.
Not every notice will go unchallenged, as some homeowners will issue a dissent simply because for them, the process is convenient and free. However, following these steps will make it far more likely that your project can go ahead quickly and smoothly, without the lengthy negotiations required for a party wall award.