Property Dispute Resolution expert, Mike Hansom, explains the importance of recognising a party wall, and how to do so.
Mike is available on 01225 462871. Alternatively, you can email him, or complete the Contact Form at the foot of this page.
If a wall separating your property from your neighbour is a party wall, you will both have certain rights under the Party Wall Act 1996 to carry out work to it. For example, you can:
- build an extension up to the wall, utilising the existing wall as part of the extension, rather than building a new wall inside the existing line;
- increase the height of the wall;
- strengthen it;
- cut into it.
Each of you can also require the other owner to contribute towards the cost if it needs repair.
If the wall is not a party wall, it will be owned wholly by you or your neighbour. As you would expect, your neighbour cannot utilise or carry out work on or affecting a wall belonging to you without your consent.
What is a party wall?
It is not always easy to tell whether a wall is a party wall. There are three types:
- A ‘type A’ party wall forms part of a building that stands astride the legal boundary, but often it is not possible to say precisely where the boundary is, so it can be difficult to identify whether such a wall is a party wall or wholly belongs to the building’s owner. A wall separating two adjoining buildings is always a party wall, e.g. the internal wall separating terraced or semi-detached houses.
- A ‘type B’ party wall is one standing entirely on one person’s land but has a building belonging to a neighbour built up against it, enclosing a proportion of the wall. An example would be where your neighbour’s garage adjoins the flank wall of your building. The part of your wall enclosed by the garage will be a party wall, but the rest will not.
- A party fence wall is a wall that stands on the boundary but has no buildings attached to it. The classic example is a garden wall. A wooden fence cannot be a wall and, therefore, cannot be a party wall. However, not every garden boundary wall is a party wall.
How can I tell if a boundary wall is a party wall?
There may be a declaration in your deeds as to the legal status of the wall. You may also see an inward-facing T-mark on your deed plan. That mark usually means you are responsible for the repair of the boundary. However, the Court of Appeal has held that it does not necessarily mean (or indicate) that you own the boundary wall or other boundary feature.
If your deeds are silent on the issue, you will need to establish whether the wall stands astride the legal boundary. This can be difficult and is often not possible from a visual inspection alone. A boundary is an invisible line with no width and might be on either side of the wall or down the middle. An added complication is that it is possible for a boundary to move, wholly or in part, over time.
You may be able to infer the position of the boundary from other factors. For example, the rear garden walls of a terraced house often follow the line of the internal dividing walls separating the houses from each other. Those internal dividing walls are ‘type A’ party walls, and if the garden walls follow a continuation of that line and the deeds show the boundary to be a straight line, it is likely the garden walls are also party walls.
Party Wall Solicitor
If all this sounds complicated – it is! Get it wrong and you could find yourself embroiled in a costly dispute with your neighbour. And remember, disputes with your neighbour must be disclosed to a potential buyer when you come to sell the property.
Certainly, you should never rely on an assumption and always consider seeking a professional opinion at an early stage.