Building Work to a Party Wall

Are you Planning Building Work to a Party Wall?

Are you planning building work to a party wall or structure that you share with your neighbour? Is your neighbour undertaking building work that will affect your property?

Building Work to a Party Wall Can Be a Matter For the Courts

If you are planning building work or your neighbour is proposing work that affects a party wall or party structure then there is a legal requirement to meet the provisions of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996.  If your property is in England or Wales, this legislation must be followed. The law does not apply in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

What Is a Party Wall?

A Party Wall can be defined many ways. Principally it is a wall that sits across the boundary between two or more properties, such as the dividing wall between adjoining houses. It could also be the dividing floor between flats.

The Act also protects structures that stands completely on one owner’s land. Sometimes this can be astride the line of junction and can be used by both owners. i.e. Where one owner has built a wall and the adjoining owner has built up against it enclosing the structure. In that particular example only part of that wall might be considered a ‘party wall’.

Properties that are completely independent of one another can also be subject to the Act. If a building owner is planning to undertake excavations up to 6 metres from an adjoining owners structure there may also be a requirement to adhere to the Act.

A ‘party fence wall’ is a wall that does not form part of a building and stands on land belonging to different owners. This could be a garden wall, but does not include a timber fence.

There are many instances where the Party Wall Act may or may not be relevant. For this reason we always recommend it is assessed by a professional to assist, who both knows the workings of the Act and has technical construction expertise.

Does the Party Wall Act Apply To Me?

Providing the structure or structures in question meets the definitions within the Party Wall Act there is ikely to be a requirement that works need to be agreed with the adjoining owner. Simple works, such as installing shelves, replacing electrical sockets or wiring, does not require an agreement. But you should only do certain building work to a party wall or party structure once the adjoining owner or owners have been formally notified in writing and agreed the works in advance of works proceeding. Examples of notifiable party wall work might include ork includes:

  • Cutting into a wall to take the weight of a beam or insert a flashing.
  • Inserting a damp proof course.
  • Demolition, reconstruction or underpinning a party wall.

If you’re planning to undertake excavations there are some comprehensive requirements defined within the Party Wall Act, that need to be properly understood to determine whether the Act applies.

When Does Party Wall Notice Need To Be Served?

If you are planning to undertake building work to a Party Wall then we suggest you inform your neighbour in good time. This is the most critical step and can often prevent unnecessary and costly dispute later on. The purpose of the Act is to avoid disputes arising by making sure owners are aware and agree the Party Wall works.

Where applicable you must notify your neighbour in writing before building work to a party wall begins. There is a minimum period for this notice to be served before building works affecting the party wall or structure can commence. If there is more than one person with an interest in the property (i.e. Leaseholders and Freeholders. Again these are clearly defined in the Act) you must notify all of them. If there are multiple properties affected they must all be notified.

The Act is specific about the requirements of issuing notice/s. It is very important that valid notice or notices are served. If notices are not valid they will need to be served again correctly and this will reset the minimum period.

What Happens If An Adjoining Owner Does Not Agree to Party Wall Works?

If an adjoining owner does not agree to works then a dispute is deemed to have arisen. Parties in dispute are not able to act as a surveyor for themselves . They need to appoint someone who can act independently. Owners may agree to appoint a single ‘agreed surveyor’, or they can each appoint their own surveyor to act upon their behalves. The expert or experts will agree the parameters of how the works should be carried out and will serve a ‘party wall award’ which will stipulate how works affecting the party structure will be completed.

The award usually contains a schedule of condition of the affected elements of the adjoining owner’s property before work begin. This provides an accurate record of the condition of the building prior to works so damage (if any) can be properly defined after works have been completed.

RMA Surveyors are Chartered Building Surveyors, Members of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, Members of The Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors. We are experts in party wall matters. If you need advice in relation to the Party Wall Act contact us for clear and reliable advise.

What is Woodworm?

Wood boring insect flight holes in roof rafter

Wood boring insect flight holes in roof rafter

Damage caused by that commonly referred to as woodworm is actually caused by a beetle larvae. These larvae hatch from eggs laid on the outer surface of timber, where once hatched they burrow into the wood, creating tunnels as they feast.

It can take up to five years for the grubs to reach maturity. Before which they form a pupae eventually emerging as beetles and leaving characteristic flight holes in the timber surface.

Timber damage from wood boring beetle should not always be cause for alarm. For instance some larvae can only feed on damp timber. Once the cause of damp has been rectified the food source, and thus the larvae, will be stopped. In some cases the pest may have been present in the timber prior to construction and the process of sawing, drying and treatment will have killed any larvae leaving only residual damage as evidence of their existence.

The type of timber, size of flight holes, type of dust, or “frass”, left behind and condition of affected timber are all indicators of the type of species and likely damage that can be expected.

In cases where beetle larvae are active they have the ability to cause structural damage and remedial insecticidal treatment is often required.
Damage can be caused to sapwood (the outer rings where sap rises in a tree) and heartwood (the inner rings or ‘heart’). Darker heartwood damage is less common due to the presence of chemicals acting as a natural repellent. Heartwood damage is considered serious as the structural integrity of timber is greatly reduced when heartwood is attacked.

The death watch beetle is considered a particular menace as it feeds off both heartwood and sapwood.

The beetle most commonly referred to as woodworm is the Common Furniture Beetle (Anobium Punctatum). This beetle’s larvae are found to be present in sapwoods of both softwoods and European hardwoods. Infestations are common throughout the UK. Attack is rare in dry wood and modern timber panels such as plywood. It is most common when timber is damp. Where timber is exposed to good central heating this type of larvae usually dies out. Unheated and humid areas of properties such poorly ventilated roof and sub floor voids are most at risk. The larvae live for 2-5 years. Tunnels are numerous and close knit. Bore holes are circular and up to 2mm in diameter. Beetles emerge in late Spring and Summer.

Although treatment can be undertaken through drying out of timber, insecticidal treatment of live infestation is often recommended in order to swiftly arrest the damage.

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No Flood Insurance Deal May Leave Thousands at Risk

A flooded townThe current flood agreement between the Government and the Association of British Insurers comes to an end at the end of June 2013. Negotiations to continue providing affordable premiums to those most vulnerable to flooding are seemingly at a grinding halt.

Under the present agreement, insurers are committed to offering existing consumers universal flood insurance at affordable rates, providing that the Government invests in flood defenses. However, government spending on flood defenses is reported to have reduced. The Guardian reported last July that 294 flood defense projects have not received funding.

Talks between DEFRA and the ABI over a new deal have been ongoing for months. As many as 200,000 households could find it difficult to source reasonable premiums on flood insurance if no agreement is reached.

Green Deal – Planning Laws Relaxed

External insulationThe Government’s Green Deal‘s cashback initiative has been launched this week. There is no cap on what householders can claim.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has made available £125 million funding for the scheme.

To qualify for the cashback initiative, homeowners need to have a Green Deal property assessment undertaken on their property. However, this assessment is not always free, as many assessment companies are charging consumers for this service. The assessment is designed to inform homeowners what measures will make the best improvements to their property’s thermal performance. Improvements may include cavity or solid wall insulation, replacement boilers and loft insulation.

The cashback initiative follows an announcement by Climate change minister Greg Barker last week that planning laws have been relaxed to make it easier for external solid wall insulation to be installed. The classification of solid wall insulation for planning purposes is set to change for property owners across the country, with this type of project now seen as a “permitted development” – meaning property owners will no longer require specific planning consent to carry such an improvement.

The climate change minister stated: “There used to be a time that if you applied external solid wall insulation you would make the house look like something out of Erich Honecker’s East Germany. But actually lots of the solid wall insulation products now enhance the look and feel of a home.”

Greg Barker stated the Department for Communities and Local Government had “relaxed” planning laws so that the insulation measures are categorized as home improvements, rather than enlargement or extension, meaning the solid wall insulation will not require planning permission for most homes. Listed Buildings and properties in Conservation areas will still require permission.

RICS Publish Housing Market Forecast for 2013

Front doors, residential property

The RICS have issued their forecast for the UK housing market for 2013. According to the RICS prices are set to rise in the UK by an increase of 2%. The cost of renting is also expected to rise by up to 4%.

The RICS recognise the UK is not out of the economic doldrums quite yet but predict some “slight improvements” which will be reflected in the housing market.

They predict a rise in the number of transactions by just over 3% to 960,000; against a total of 930,000 in 2012. The RICS report this is still a significant decrease on 2006; their 2013 forecast representing just under 58% of the 2006 transaction figures.

London’s prime central market is predicted to remain stable, whereas the rest of the capital is expected to continue with above average increases. The South East and North West are predicted to see modest rises. The remainder of the UK is expected to dip slightly or remain stagnant, indicating that the London bubble is expected to drive market growth.

Gloomier news is that due to the negative equity generated by large loan to value ratios in the peak of the boom, repossessions are predicted to continue, with only a modest drop in repossession figures to below 35,000.

See the full RICS report here. RICS Housing Update December 2012

Glimmers of Positivity in the housing market.

Signs of improvements in the housing market are continuing to develop, although there is no doubt that people are still struggling to get into the housing market.

ThisisMoney.co.uk report a 1.5% increase in house prices in the year to October 2012 and a growth in demand. Mortgage rates are also reported to have fallen, thought to be as a result of the Funding For Lending scheme by the Bank of England which is supplying cheap money to banks and building societies to encourage them to lend at cheaper rated to borrowers.

The Telegraph report that mortgage lending has improved in the last ten months. However, with comparably unfavorable mortgage terms, stamp duty, professional fees, removals costs and other hidden expenses it is easy to see why people are playing safe and staying put rather than stretching themselves beyond their means.

 

Six Steps to a Party Wall Award

Party wallRecently we have had a number of requests for information regarding party wall procedure. With the aim of providing guidance the following is an overview of the basic procedure of serving Party Wall notices:

1. Firstly, do you need to issue a party wall notice? For the sake of argument let’s say you do. Do you know what type of notice needs to be served? A line of junction notice? A party structure notice? Or a notice of adjacent excavation? In some cases it may be just one in some cases it may be all three. This can easily be determined by any good Party Wall Surveyor who knows the Party Wall Act.

2. Secondly, on whom are you serving notice? Who is the freeholder? Are there any leaseholders? Does the proposed work affect more than one structure? If so, there are likely to be a number of parties to whom notice must be served.

3. With the aforementioned identified notice can be served. RMA Surveyors Ltd are often asked to become involved in Party Wall matters after notice has been served. Clients sometimes see an early saving being made by not appointing a Party Wall Surveyor, as the process seems simple at the outset. However, as the process develops it can become more complex and Building Owners seek to appoint Party Wall Surveyors to untangle the knots. We would say two things at this juncture. Firstly, fees for initial notice are usually minimal. Secondly, issue of the correct, properly drafted notices at the outset will save time. If a notice is not correct, it is invalid and another valid notice must be served. It can take two months before works can start from date of issue of a valid notice.

4. Valid notice is served to the Adjoining Owner. They now have fourteen days to respond. The adjoining owner can assent or dissent to the proposed works. If the adjoining owner does not respond in this period, works are deemed to be in dispute. If the Adjoining Owner agrees to works, the Building Owner may, by written agreement, proceed with works. We strongly recommend a condition survey of the Adjoining Owner’s property be undertaken prior to works commencing, to provide a benchmark and avoid later dispute.

5. If no response is received or the Adjoining Owner dissents to works the building owner will need to write to the adjoining owner to request they appoint a Party Wall Surveyor. The Adjoining Owner may opt to use the Surveyor appointed by the Building Owner. They may prefer to appoint their own Surveyor. In most cases the fee for the Adjoining Owner’s Surveyor will be borne by the Building Owner.

6. Once appointed the Agreed Surveyor or Surveyors should then work to draw up a Party Wall Award. A Party Wall Award is the framework whereby works affecting the party structure are to be executed. A condition survey of the Adjoining Owner’s property will be undertaken. Once the Party Wall Award is agreed and published works can commence from the date stated within the Award.

Please also see our Party Wall Pitfalls blog with more useful guidance about the Party Wall process.

RMA serves up food for thought at Hungerford Big Business Breakfast

Richard Mountain deleviring an insight into what buildings can tell us.Have you ever wondered what would be stories could be told if the walls could talk. Richard Mountain delivered a 10 minute presentation at Hungerford Big Business Breakfast (HBBB) on Tuesday 16th May 2012 that gave an insight into what they say.

Richard, chartered building surveyor and owner of RMA Surveyors Ltd,  frequently enters into dialogue with buildings. He gave practical examples of the kinds of conservations he has to fellow attendees at one of West Berkshire’s premium networking event, held at the Bear Hotel in Hungerford.

HBBB is held monthly and draws a wide variety of experts, services and business professionals. Richard enjoyed presenting to the room and imparting some of his expertise, whilst demonstrating why he is so passionate about building surveying.

After delivering his well received presentation he said “The group is unique and very relaxed. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to explain a little bit more about what I do. I am pleased that my talk engaged with everyone and I had the opportunity to demonstrate the skills required to provide the professional service we do at RMA Surveyors Ltd.”

Richard is actively seeking further public speaking opportunities to demonstrate the benefits of his expertise. The next HBBB is June 19th contact Sarah Culpepper of the Bear Hotel for more details.

Why pay for a construction professional?

Judges gavel and the scales of justiceWe have picked up several projects in the last 6 months where the clients have had builders start or about to begin works with no formal contract, specification, scope of works or even a sketch on the back of a beer mat. As building professionals we see these as shocking omissions. We implore anyone thinking of embarking upon a building project, whether it is a refurbishment, extension, alteration, repair or cyclical maintenance, to only do so if they have taken appropriate professional advice.

Invariably construction is expensive. People want to limit costs as much as possible. Often the services of construction professionals are first to be omitted, in a bid to shave some of this cost. True, in the first instance money has been saved. The fees of surveyors, architects and structural engineers have been avoided. But the saving often doesn’t remain as the project spirals out of control without formal professional management. Worst case scenario the building owner ends up paying for professional fees to put it right or act as an expert witness in court.

Often a good contract administrator or project manager’s value cannot be immediately seen. But a project that has benefitted from the process of feasibility, design, specification, tendering, contractor appointment, management and communication by a qualified professional adds value to a project. Using a professional to steer you through the process will save you money.

A good proportion of RMA Surveyors Ltd instructions are generated by clients who wished they had sought professional advice in the first instance. We have seen sewer pipes terminate below ground floors, all manner of poor masonry detailing and poor mortar specifications, non-compliant roof conversions, unsupported chimney breasts, undersized lintels, dangerous electrics and all manner of other defects. Often work has not been passed by building control and there is no formal contract in place to protect the client.

Many problems encountered are not even considered at the time of installation, but would have been picked up by an experienced professional. Even if a problem is not noted during or immediately after construction the chances are the problem will manifest itself in years to come. Most likely when the property is sold and a purchaser’s surveyor highlights defects or shortcomings. Inevitably the value of the property is reduced at the point of sale.

Coupled with the above, a project that has not been properly specified will undoubtedly result in spiralling costs during construction. We often hear of clients whose builder invoices an inflated final account where no agreement has been made for the extra costs. But with no formal contract or defined contract sum the client is often bamboozled by the contractors’ technical explanations when trying to negotiate. The result is that both parties become entrenched.

A construction professional may not always seem appropriate and can be a cost to be avoided. But RMA Surveyors Ltd experience is although the value we bring cannot always be calculated; the cost of putting it right when it goes wrong cannot either.

If you have a project you would like to talk about please contact us.