If you are planning to carry out building work of any sort, it is wise to consider how it might affect your neighbours. Work involving party walls is one area where there is comprehensive legal guidance; following the law and instructing the appropriate professionals, if necessary, will help maintain good relations with your neighbours.
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The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 is the relevant legislation in relation to party wall agreements. The Act applies in England and Wales and provides guidance for dealing with disputes regarding party walls, boundary walls and excavations that are close to neighbouring buildings. Any person planning to carry out work that is covered by the Act must give adjoining owners notice of their intentions. If no agreement can be reached between the owners, the Act outlines steps to be taken to resolve the dispute.
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The Act recognises two main types of party wall. The first type is a wall that stands over a boundary of land belonging to two or more different owners; it may be part of one building, separate two or more buildings or separate the land of different owners (such as a garden wall). The second type is a wall that stands entirely on one owner's land, but is used by two or more owners to keep their buildings separate, for instance where one owner has built the wall initially, and subsequently another owner has built their building against it without forming their own wall.
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The most sensible course of action is to raise the subject of your planned work with your neighbour or adjoining owner before you give written notice. This gives you a chance to discuss any concerns informally. There is no official form to be used to give notice, but it must include the following information: your name and home address; the names of all joint owners; the address of the building to be worked on; a detailed description of your plans; an estimated starting date of the work; the date and a statements that it is a notice under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996. The notice must be served at least two months before the proposed starting date for the work, and is only valid for one year.
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If agreement cannot be reached between parties, surveyors should be instructed. A Party Wall Agreement, also known as an 'award', is the document produced by the surveyor or surveyors acting for the joint owners. It usually consists of three sections: the award itself, which is a list of guidelines detailing how the proposed work should be carried out; a "schedule of condition" of the adjoining property, which may include photographs; and drawings depicting the proposed work. The award must provide details of the two properties, the owners and their home addresses, plus all the surveyors' details. Other information may include proposed working hours, public liability insurance assurances and access arrangements for the surveyors.
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After the party wall agreement has been drawn up, it is "published", which means a signed and witnessed copy is sent to the two (or more) owners by their surveyors. Thereafter there is a 14-day right to appeal if either owner considers the agreement to be incorrect or misleading. The building owner receives an additional copy for their contractor. The building work can start on the agreed date.