As anyone who is considering building an extension will have realised, neighbours have an important role to play in many aspects of the planning process.
They will experience some of the pain of the work without enjoying the benefits, so it is crucial to keep them informed and on side. It is also a point of law that you must give them notice before starting work close to the boundary with their property. Getting this wrong could delay your build and make your project more costly. Getting it right will provide the foundations for a smooth build.
If you are carrying out works governed by the Party Wall Act, you need to serve a party wall notice on your neighbours. This must be done at least two months before the notifiable works begin, and at least one month before the notifiable excavation works begin. Notifiable work is either building work which affects a party wall or boundary line, or excavations within three or six metres of a neighbouring property (depending on the depth of the foundations you are making). This will include most extensions and basement and loft conversions.
You need to serve notice on all the owners of every neighbouring property affected by the works, both freeholders and leaseholders. You don’t need planning permission for your plans to serve notice, and once you’ve done so you can take up to a year to start work.
If your plans change slightly after you’ve served notice – for example, if you decide to increase the depth of your extension – you should be able to submit revised drawings to your neighbour without having to serve a new notice.
There is “realistic potential” for damage when undertaking party wall works so it’s not surprising that failure to comply with the act could result in your neighbour taking you to court and obtaining – at your expense – an injunction to prevent you from continuing with the work. And that’s not the worst of it. If you haven’t obeyed the act and you cause major damage to your neighbour’s property, the judge can award compensation for any loss or damage resulting from the works, including legal costs.
If, on the other hand, you correctly serve notice on your neighbours and damage occurs, any disputes over that damage will be dealt with by surveyors rather than at common law. Surveyors have no scope to award damages for non-quantifiable things such as stress and inconvenience, unlike the courts, so costs would typically be much lower.
In order to be fully compliant we recommend taking initial advice from our Professional team at Roger Hannah to discuss matters. We are active members of the RICS helpline service (020 7222 7000) and also the Pyramus & Thisbe Club established in 1974, which provides additional information and guidance at http://www.partywalls.org.uk/party_wall_guides.