The Party Wall etc. Act 1996

For a piece of legislation over twenty years old, The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (“PWeA” or just “the Act”) still causes some confusion and concern amongst Clients and their neighbours.  I hope this article will help to clear up some misunderstandings.  It’s not supposed to be a thesis on the Act, and it’s not intended to be watertight professional advice applying to every project. 


Firstly, and most importantly, if you have any specific questions, please let me know as soon as possible! Notifications under PWeA need to be served at least one or two months before work starts, and things are sometimes delayed beyond even that.  If you have builders about to start on Monday, there’s a limit to what I can do before they start!


View across the rear of three properties
Three properties, two Party Wall Awards, one Agreed Surveyor!

When does PWeA apply to my building work?

In theory, most building work shouldn’t fall within the scope of the Act.  However, with so many projects in packed urban areas, it can feel almost impossible to avoid it!  The Act may well apply to works in England and Wales that involve:

  • excavation close to a neighbour’s structure; or
  •  working on a party structure, such as raising it, cutting into it, disturbing chimney breasts, etc.; or
  • building on the boundary between you and your neighbour. 

If you think it might apply to the building work you’re having done, do please ask me to check. However, it doesn’t apply to minor things like plastering, cutting in electrical wires or sockets, or drilling to put up shelves and cabinets.


So what’s a “party structure” then?

A party structure is one that two (or more) owners share for their building.  Usually, this is the wall between terraced or semi-detached houses, but also applies to the floor/ceiling between two flats.  A wall built astride a boundary with no building (such as a garden wall) is also a party structure, but wooden fences are not.


What do I need to do if the Act applies?

The Building Owner (the person undertaking the building work) needs to notify any Adjoining Owners (anybody who has a long-term interest in the neighbouring property, not short-hold tenants or mortgage lenders, but landlords, owner-occupiers and leaseholders) of the work.  This has to be ONE MONTH BEFORE new building on the boundary, or excavating close to a neighbour’s structure, or TWO MONTHS BEFORE working on an existing party structure.


The notification has to be in writing, and must include important information (such as details of the work, and the date it will start) in order to be valid.  I can make this notification for you, to include it’s been made correctly.


A notification remains valid for up to twelve months.


It’s worth speaking to the neighbour before serving notice, so that they know what to expect.


What does the Adjoining Owner do after that?

The Adjoining Owner has a choice to either:

  • consent to the work, OR
  • dissent from the work and appoint their own Surveyor (“the Adjoining Owner’s Surveyor”) to look after their property, OR
  • dissent from the work and agree to appoint a shared Surveyor (the “Agreed Surveyor”) between both owners.

Consenting to the work means that the Adjoining Owner has no concerns about the work.  Under the Act, that is the end of the matter, as soon as they have they have replied in writing.  It can be helpful (to both sides) to carry out a Condition Survey of the Adjoining Owner’s property before works start, to record any damage and ensure that the Building Owner hasn’t damaged the Adjoining Owner’s property.


Dissenting from the work means that the Adjoining Owner would like a Surveyor to look after their building. Normally this Surveyor is paid for by the Building Owner – after all, it’s not your fault they want to do work close to your building!  There are exceptions to this rule, however, so please don’t assume that this Surveyor is at your beck and call for anything property-related while the Party Wall matters are resolved!  


If the Adjoining Owner does not respond in writing to the notice within two weeks, a dissent is deemed to have arisen, and two surveyors must be appointed.


If you receive a Notification under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996, I can discuss your options in more detail, if you want to get in touch.


Can the Adjoining Owner stop the works going ahead?

Simply put, no.


The Party Wall etc. Act is an enabling act: it allows Building Owners to do something they might not otherwise be allowed to, provided they follow the correct procedure.  A particularly obstructive Adjoining Owner might delay works somewhat, but the Surveyor(s) have methods of minimising this. 


Why appoint an Agreed Surveyor?

Although it’s up to the Adjoining Owner who they use to represent them, the two Owners may decide to appoint a single Surveyor to do the work.  This keeps the Building Owner’s fees down and can speed up the process.  However, one Owner might feel that their voice is not being heard on a particular concern.  In most cases, the Adjoining Owner will appoint their own Surveyor.


What do the Surveyors do?

Whether an Agreed Surveyor or Two Surveyors, the procedure is pretty much the same:


Photograph of minor cracks found in polystyrene coving and ceiling paper
Cracks found! But were they there before next door's work started?
  • visit the Adjoining Owner’s property and carry out a condition survey of the affected parts of the work;
  • establish whether any specific safeguards are required to protect people or buildings;
  • establish whether any other works need to be carried out or paid for as part of the proposals;
  • establish who pays for what;
  • collate the information into a legal document called an Award and publish this to the two Owners.


The work usually involves checking off the condition survey after the works are completed and may involve scheduling further works If damage has been caused.  Occasionally, the two Surveyors are called upon to draft a fresh Award if something changes on site.


The Building Owner should not commence works until the Award has been published.  The Award remains valid for twelve months.


Can I fire my Surveyor and appoint someone who agrees with me?

No. A properly-appointed Surveyor cannot be fired or dis-instructed.


What if I disagree with the Award?

Either Owner can appeal against any part of an Award within 14 days of publication.  As such, it is recommended that works do not commence until two weeks after an Award has been published.


What is a Third Surveyor?

Most of the time, the Owners do not need to worry about (or pay for) the Third Surveyor.  In fact, most of the time the Third Surveyor does not even know that they have been appointed!  The Third Surveyor is appointed by the Building Owner’s Surveyor and Adjoining Owner’s Surveyor to resolve any disputes that the two Surveyors cannot resolve between themselves.  Party wall Surveyors are a reasonable bunch, but occasionally they cannot agree. Only then is the Third Surveyor brought in to resolve the matter. 


There is no need for a Third Surveyor when an Agreed Surveyor has been appointed.


Who pays for all these Surveyors?

Usually, the Building Owner pays for the Surveyor(s).  In rare circumstances, the Adjoining Owner might be required to pay something, such as:

  • if the Adjoining Owner’s Surveyor has spent a long time on other matters, not relating to the PWeA;
  • if the Third Surveyor is called upon, and agrees with the Building Owner’s Surveyor’s position;
  • if the Adjoining Owner has issued a counter-notice asking for additional work to be carried out.


What if the Adjoining Owner (or their Surveyor) doesn’t co-operate or engage?

There are mechanisms within the Act to allow the process to move forward.  As stated above, the Adjoining Owner cannot stop the work from proceeding.  However, if the neighbour is unco-operative, it can make the process drag on longer than it could have.  For that reason, it is always worthwhile starting the process as soon as possible!


What if the Building Owner doesn’t notify an Adjoining Owner?

There is no specified punishment for not serving notice under the PWeA.   However, the Adjoining Owners are able to go through the courts to stop work, and to pass their legal costs on to the Building Owner.   This is likely to be many times more expensive than serving notice properly!


In addition, if there is no condition survey of the Adjoining Owner’s property before works begin, who’s to know whether those cracks in their walls were down to the Building Owner’s work, or whether they have been hidden in the back of the cupboard behind boxes for years?

Photograph of the end of a single-storey extension on the boundary
A party wall between two adjoining houses



I hope this article helps to clear up some misunderstandings and answer some questions.  There is additional guidance in the DCLG guide, available online.


Most importantly, if you have any specific questions, please let me know as soon as possible! Notifications under PWeA need to be served at least one or two months before work starts, and things are sometimes delayed beyond even that.  If you have builders about to start on Monday, there’s a limit to what I can do before they start!