What Happens if You Don’t Want to Agree?
The Party Wall Act is designed to prevent disputes between neighbours over party walls and building work.
Home owners all across Essex are choosing to extend and renovate their homes rather than move. With house prices skyrocketing and growing economic uncertainly in the run up to Brexit, people are decided to make the most of what they have rather than risk up-sizing to a larger home. Plus, an extension can often be built for little more than the cost of moving house. However, one aspect of extensions and loft conversions that few people understand is that of the Party Wall Agreement. Even after planning has been agreed, some homeowners have one more hurdle to cross before they can go ahead and build – an agreement with their neighbours.
When the Party Wall Act came into being more than 20 years ago, the idea was that it would provide a platform for neighbours to resolve any difficulties relating to building work or the digging of foundations that would affect party walls.
There is plenty of advice out there for those who want to carry out work, but what if you are looking at it from the other side of the coin? If you have received a Party Wall Notice, are you obliged to sign a party wall agreement, or can you simply refuse? Let’s find out. Essex based Shore Engineering have shared their experiences, insights and knowledge with Essex Portal, so read on!
About party wall agreements
A party wall agreement is needed between you and your neighbour if either of you intends to carry out work that will materially affect the party wall, for example by demolishing it, cutting into it, altering its height or width and so on.
So if your neighbours plan to carry out any work of this type, they need to provide you with a formal written notice of the planned works, and you then have 14 days to either give your consent or raise your concerns.
Note that consent has to be given in writing. So even if you’ve been “caught on the hop” while chatting over the fence and verbally indicated that you have no objection, it means nothing until you give your formal written consent in response to the Party Wall Notice.
What if you don’t agree?
Of course, it could be that you don’t want your party wall to be cut into. Maybe you’d rather not have the noise and inconvenience of builders drilling and hammering away next door. Or perhaps you don’t get on with the neighbours and you simply don’t wish to cooperate.
These are all different reasons for objecting, but the chances are that none of them are justifiable reasons to withhold consent. Noise and inconvenience are certainly reasons you might object to the works themselves, but that will form a part of the planning and approval process, and has no bearing on party walls.
The surveyor(s) will make a “party wall award” which gives a final ruling on what will happen, how and when the work will be done, and who will pay for it. It also includes the surveyor’s fees.
Silence means dissent
If you simply ignore the Notice and neither consent nor dissent in 14 days, your silence will be taken as dissent and the dispute resolution process will be triggered. The next step is for a surveyor or two surveyors to view the proposed works on behalf of you and your neighbour, and to make an assessment.
If you refuse to engage with the process and continue to ignore it, your neighbour can appoint a surveyor on your behalf. Failure to work with the surveyor can result in a court appearance. This is an area that few neighbours realise when they decide not to cooperate with surveyors, and later on, builders. Section 20 of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 explains this:
20 What about access to neighbouring property?
Under the Act, an Adjoining Owner and/or occupier must, when necessary, let in your workmen and your own surveyor or designer etc., to carry out works in pursuance of the Act (but only for those works), and allow access to any surveyor appointed as part of the dispute resolution procedure.
You must give the Adjoining Owner and occupier notice of your intention to exercise these rights of entry. The Act says that 14 days’ notice must be given, except in case of emergency. If access is necessary to carry out the notified works you may wish to include this requirement in the notice that you serve when seeking consent to carry out the works, so as to avoid any dispute in this respect at a later stage when work is underway.
It is an offence, which can be prosecuted in the magistrates’ court, for the occupier or other person to refuse entry to or obstruct someone who is entitled to enter premises under the Act, if the first-mentioned person knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the latter person is entitled to be there.
This often causes further distress for both parties, but fortunately for homeowners who are renovating or extending their homes, the law is there to ensure work can be carried out.
Avoid Party Wall Salesmen
Be aware that there are rogue party wall surveyors who send letters to any house they see where there is building work next door. These are essentially fraudsters who are trying to panic homeowners into taking expensive action. Always choose your own surveyor calmly and advisedly. Using a local surveyor is always recommended too, as more than one site visit may be required – using a cheaper firm may seem like a good idea, but if they are 3 hours drive away, their costs might quickly rise.
Take a pragmatic approach
Never ignore a party wall notice, and if you have concerns, it is always best to discuss them amicably with your neighbour. Getting into a dispute for the sake of it is in nobody’s interest, and can only lead to increased costs and ill-feeling.
Image source: My Extension – Loft Conversion