The Party Wall etc. Act 1996: A Short Guide

Angus Thomas
Written by:

Angus Thomas


Amidst the current turbulence in the UK housing market, many homeowners are opting to stay put and renovate their homes. Such a trend brings the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (“the Act”) into sharp focus. In this article, Angus Thomas provides an overview of the Act and practical strategies for dispute resolution.

Key Structures 

Property practitioners will no doubt be aware that the Act provides a framework for managing potential disputes as they relate to three types of structures. The three types of structure can be briefly summarised as follows:

  1. Party Wall:

A wall that is either:

  1. Situated on the land of two or more owners that forms part of a building (“Type A”); or
  2. Situated on one owner’s land but is enclosed by the building of an adjoining owner (“Type B”). This includes walls separating terraced or semi-detached houses.

2. Party Structure:
A structure, either horizontal (a floor) or vertical (a partition wall), that separates parts of buildings owned by different owners, such as in apartment buildings.

3. Party Fence Wall:
A non-building wall, like a garden wall, that sits astride the boundary line between two properties. It refers to walls made of bricks, stone, and similar materials but excludes wooden fences.

Types of Work Covered by the Act

Similarly, the Act governs three main types of building work; each with specific notice and procedural requirements:

  1. Work on an Existing Party Wall or Structure:

This includes:

  1. Repairing a Party Wall
  2. Inserting a Damp Proof Course
  3. Underpinning the Wall
  4. Cutting into the Wall (e.g., inserting beams or joists for a loft conversion)
  5. Raising the Height of the Wall
  6. Extending the Wall Downwards
  7. Demolishing and Rebuilding the Wall

2. Building a New Wall at or Astride the Boundary Line:

This involves constructing new walls or structures that sit on or cross the boundary.

3. Excavation Near Neighbouring Buildings:

This includes:

  1. Excavation within 3 metres if it goes deeper than the neighbour’s foundations; and
  2. Excavation within 6 metres if it intersects a line drawn at a 45-degree angle from the neighbour’s foundations.

It should be noted that if the works fall within the categories set out above, the Act will apply even if planning permission or buildings regulations approval has been granted for the works.

Minor Works

Certain minor works are generally considered to fall outside the Act. This may include drilling for wall units or shelving; adding or replacing wiring or sockets; or removing and replastering old plaster.

Notice Requirements

Timing of Notice

The Act requires building owners to notify adjoining owners of their intention to carry out any work covered by the Act. The relevant requirements depend on the type of work:

  1. For Existing Party Wall Work: The adjoining landowner must be given two months’ notice. 
  2. For New Building Work at or Astride the Boundary Line: Notice must be served at least one month in advance.
  3. For Excavation Work (3 or 6 meters): One month’s notice is similarly required, but the notice must include detailed plans of the proposed excavation.

Form of Notice

Generally, a notice should contain at least:

  • The building owner’s name and address;
  • The address of the building to be worked on;
  • A full description of the proposed work (including plans for excavation works); and
  • The proposed start date.

In preparing a notice, practitioners may be assisted by ‘The Party Wall etc Act 1996: explanatory booklet’, May 2016, prepared by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. This provides a number of example notices. Of course, these should be suitably amended to deal with the facts of any individual case. The explanatory booklet and the exemplar notices can be found at:

Service of Notice

Notices or other documents required to be served under the Act can be served in-person or by post: section 15(1) of the Act. A notice or document sent by post is served under section 15 when it is deemed to be received: Freetown Ltd v Assethold Ltd [2012] EWCA Civ 1657.

It is important to note that service by email is only permissible if the adjoining owner agrees and provides their email address: section 15(1A) of the Act; Knight v Goulandris [2018] EWCA Civ 237. As such, when making a request to serve by email, the adjoining owner should always be asked to provide their email address. It is essential that the notice is sent to the address that is specified by the adjoining owner; it is not sufficient to simply use an address found online for instance. As referred to above, the dispute resolution process is discussed below.


Practitioners should be live to these notice requirements. The failure to serve proper notice can have significant consequences. Adjoining owners may seek a court injunction to halt the work or recover damages, as highlighted in Louis v Sadiq [1996] 1 EGLR 136. More recently, in Power and Kyson v Shah [2023] EWCA Civ 239, the failure to serve notice rendered void a surveyor’s award in relation to the work.


Adjoining landowners may consent to or reject the works. Alternatively, they may serve a counter-notice within one month requesting that the works be carried out differently. The requirements of a counter-notice are set out at section 4 of the Act. The building owner has 14 days to respond.

If the contemplated work is rejected, the Act’s dispute resolution procedure, outlined below, is engaged.

A failure to respond to a notice or counter-notice does not mean the other party has acquiesced to the work. A dispute is deemed to arise, and the dispute resolution process will be engaged if there is no response to a notice or counter-notice. As such, practitioners should consider diarising the deadline for a response to ensure that the dispute resolution process can be swiftly engaged.

Entry Rights

Section 8 of the Act grants building owners specific rights of entry to adjoining properties to carry out necessary work during usual working hours. The following points are pertinent:

  1. 14 Days’ Notice: Building owners must give 14 days’ notice before exercising these rights of entry, except in emergencies.
  2. Access for Surveyors: Surveyors appointed under the dispute resolution procedure must be allowed access to inspect the works as necessary.
  3. Legal Consequences for Obstruction: Clients should be advised of these potentially serious consequences of obstructing access. By section 16 of the Act, it is an offence to obstruct someone entitled to enter premises under the Act, potentially leading to prosecution in the Magistrates’ Court.

Cost Sharing

Section 11 of the Act provides for how costs should be shared between building and adjoining owners. For example, if the works consist of necessary repairs, costs should be shared proportionally based on each owner’s use and responsibility for the defect. Whereas any additional works carried out at the request of the adjoining landowner (e.g. by way of a counter-notice) should be borne by them. It is therefore important to advise clients of the cost consequences of requesting additional works in a counter-notice and therefore the need for these proposals to be necessary and proportionate.

Responsibilities of Building Owners

The Act imposes several responsibilities on building owners to minimise disputes:

  1. Avoid Unnecessary Inconvenience:
    Conduct work in a way that avoids unnecessary inconvenience to adjoining owners: section 7(1) of the Act.
  2. Provide Temporary Protection: Provide temporary protection for adjoining properties where necessary, such as scaffolding.
  3. Make Good Any Damage: Repair any damage caused by the works or provide financial compensation to the adjoining owner: section 7(2) of the Act.

Compensation under section 7(2) of the Act is to be approached in the same way as damages in common law tortious claims: Lea Valley Developments Ltd v Derbyshire (No. 2) [2017] EWHC 1353 (TCC). Consequently, whilst the cost of repair remains the most common measure of compensation for damage caused to an adjoining owner’s property, diminution in value can sometimes be an appropriate alternative measure of compensation.

Dispute Resolution

Section 10 of the Act provides a structured dispute resolution procedure to protect the rights of the building owner and interests of the adjoining owner:

  1. Appointing a Surveyor:
    If an agreement cannot be reached, a surveyor will be appointed. Both parties can agree on a single “Agreed Surveyor” or appoint their own surveyors. If separate surveyors are appointed, they will jointly select a third surveyor as an arbitrator if necessary.
  2. The Award:
    Surveyors will produce an “Award” that outlines:
    • The work to be carried out;
    • Timelines and procedures;
    • Any additional protective measures; and
    • A schedule of condition of the adjoining property before work begins.

4. Costs and Payments:
The Award should also address who will bear the costs of the work and surveyors’ fees. Typically, the building owner pays all costs if the work is solely for their benefit.

5. Final and Binding:
The Award is final and binding unless modified by a County Court on appeal. Both owners have 14 days from the service of the Award to appeal.

It should be noted that, if a building owner does not serve a party wall notice, an adjoining owner cannot unilaterally invoke the party wall process, appoint party wall surveyors and seek to obtain a party wall award: Power and Kyson v Shah [2023] EWCA Civ 239.

Practical Tips

To navigate the complexities of the Act successfully, property practitioners should consider:

  1. Early Communication:
    Advise clients to commence discussions of the proposed plans with adjoining owners early to identify and address potential concerns. Adjoining owners may be more willing to consent if any concerns are addressed early on.
  2. Detailed Notices:
    The works must be performed in accordance with the notice served. Clients should be encouraged to take steps to ascertain the full scope of the work required prior to preparing the notice. Detailed instructions of the proposed works should be taken in order to ensure that the notice is detailed and clear.
  3. Documentation:
    Keep detailed records of all communications, agreements, and notices. All notices should carefully comply with the notice requirements set out above. Ensure any consent given is in writing.
  4. Reasonable Arrangements:
    Be flexible and considerate in arrangements, agreeing to reasonable working hours, and taking steps to minimise inconvenience.


By understanding and adhering to the Act’s provisions prior to commencement of works, clients can be guided through proceeding with their renovation projects with confidence and with the best chance of maintaining good neighbourly relations.

As HHJ Grant observed in Heathcote v Doal [2017] EWHC B8 (TCC):

“… the whole point of the Party Wall Act is to provide for a regime of the service of notices and counter-notices, the appointment of surveyors, the provision of an award, all of which is intended to be done before works are commenced.”

Whilst every effort has been taken to ensure that the law in this article is correct, it is intended to give a general overview of the law for educational purposes. Readers are respectfully reminded that it is not intended to be a substitute for specific legal advice and should not be relied upon for this purpose. Please also note that this article represents the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the view of any other member of St Philips Chambers.

Written by Angus Thomas