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How Soon Should I Serve A Party Wall Notice?

We are often approached by Building Owners that have scheduled to have an extension or loft conversion, only to find out that their neighbour has requested something called a ‘party wall agreement’.

In a lot of cases, owners are completely unaware of their responsibilities under the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 and unless they’ve been adequately advised by their architect during the design stage, or carried out their own exhaustive research, why would they be?

In our opinion, the short answer is - as soon as possible.

Notices for works pursuant to the Act are valid for one year from the date of service, which is plenty of time in most cases. Additionally, the notices themselves carry a set ‘notice period’, that basically says ‘I plan to do the works outlined on this notice after a set amount of time’ - this time period is set as either one month, or two months, depending on the type of notice and is applicable no matter what option the Adjoining Owner chooses when replying to the notice.

For party structure works, the notice period is two months and for excavations, it is one month.

It should be noted that an Adjoining Owner can waive this notice period if they choose, but equally, if they dissent to the notice and appoint a surveyor, the preparation of the Award can often exceed the notice period(s).

How Long Could The Party Wall Process Take?

If the Adjoining Owner does not respond to the notice, the Act states that this is a ‘deemed dissent’ and they must be given 10 days to appoint a surveyor. If they fail to respond again, the process will have taken approximately 30 days even before an Adjoining Owners Surveyor is appointed and the preparation of the Award commenced.

In situations like this, the whole process could easily take two or three months to resolve, before works can commence. Sometimes on difficult projects, the process can take even longer.

When Should I Serve the Party Wall Notice?

As a rule of thumb, our advice to Building Owners is to serve the party wall notice(s) at the point that they submit their planning application – this is based on, a) the assumption that the planning application is relatively straight forward and likely to be approved, and b) that they wish to commence the works fairly soon after permission is granted. In our experience, this approach can minimise delays caused by resolving party wall matters.

Advantages of Early Service

Serving notice at this point carries two key advantages.

Firstly, the notice period will almost certainly pass before the planning decision is made – a full planning application usually takes at least 8-10 weeks from the point of submission.

It’s worth remembering that just because you’ve served notice, doesn’t mean that you have to start accruing surveyors costs if your neighbour dissents. If that happens, simply ask the surveyor(s) to pause the process until you have confirmed the planning application has been approved and you are happy to move forward. Most surveyors will not charge for their time if they are informed of your intention to put a hold on proceedings at the outset.

Secondly, serving at the point of the planning submission means you can approach your neighbour with your proposals on your terms. Why is this worthwhile? The answer is two-fold.

  1. Neighbours Like To Be Consulted - we regularly find that Adjoining Owners are quite annoyed if the first they hear of your construction project is a letter from the local planning department. Speaking to them early, about the planning & party wall processes can help put concerns to rest and you may find you have more chance of them consenting to the notice.

  2. Unsolicited Letters From Party Wall Surveyors - unfortunately, as soon as your planning application is submitted, businesses can access details of your proposed works online. Once that information is available, both you and your neighbours will likely be written a whole host of companies offering their services. In particular, your neighbour(s) will likely receive letters from Party Wall Surveyors advertising their services. Whilst there is nothing technically wrong with a Party Wall Surveying firm writing directly to you or your neighbour, it can present the risks from your works in a negative light. At Charterhouse Surveying we do not approve of the way some of these letters are written, with the sole goal of encouraging your neighbour to create a dispute. Being able to speak to your neighbour about your proposals and assure them that you will be serving notice to meet your legal obligations, will often introduce the subject in a more positive way than an unsolicited letter looking to highlight the risks to their property.

It’s worth noting that owners can also be reassured by knowing that you will be using a reputable local surveyor to handle matters. Being asked to sign any document without some explanation as to what it means for them will inevitably concern some people. At Charterhouse our notice packages include a detailed FAQ’s section that outlines what the options are in a factual, unbiased way, so the Adjoining Owner can make a more informed decision.

So to sum up, discussing your proposals with your neighbour and serving notice at any early stage will often give you a better chance of avoiding a dispute being raised. This could mean the overall cost of dealing with the party wall process is lower and delays minimised.

If you need any advice on a party wall matter, including the service of notices, please feel free to contact us on 020 8306 0680 or via our contact page.

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