History of the Party Wall Act circa 17th Century.
The Party Wall Act is a piece of legislation that exists in the United Kingdom. It was introduced to resolve disputes that can arise between property owners when building work is carried out on or near a shared boundary, such as a wall or fence. The Act aims to provide a framework for the prevention and resolution of such disputes, protecting the rights and interests of all parties involved.
The origins of the Party Wall Act can be traced back to the 17th century in England. Prior to the Act’s introduction, disputes between neighbours regarding shared walls or boundaries were often settled through common law principles or private agreements. However, these methods were not always effective or fair, leading to the need for a more formalized legal framework.
The first significant legislation concerning party walls was the London Building Acts of the 18th and 19th centuries. These Acts primarily focused on regulating construction practices within the city of London, including provisions related to party walls. However, the legislation was specific to London and did not apply nationwide.
The thickness and construction makeup of the party wall were of concern post The Great Fire of London in 1666. Timber construction in the party walls was a focus point of the act. Particularly, the terraces of houses with multiple occupants which became the norm throughout the Victorian era.
The act established specific regulations concerning the thickness of walls, party walls, and their foundations, directly linked to the construction speed of the building. According to the act, party walls were mandated to extend at least 18 inches above the roof level. Numerous provisions within the act addressed party walls, encompassing their removal and replacement, all aimed at containing fire and inhibiting its propagation. The act also assigned a legal responsibility to surveyors for inspecting newly constructed buildings, accompanied by an obligatory oath for them to undertake.
It was not until 1996 that the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 was enacted, providing a comprehensive legal framework for party wall matters throughout England and Wales. The Act was introduced to clarify the rights and obligations of property owners when undertaking construction work that may affect party walls, as well as to establish a formal dispute resolution process.
The Party Wall Act sets out three main types of work that may require adherence to its provisions:
- Building work on an existing party wall or structure, such as cutting into the wall, removing or inserting beams, or underpinning.
- Constructing a new wall at or astride the boundary between properties.
- Excavating near a neighbouring property, where the excavation goes beyond the depth of the neighbour’s foundation.
Under the Act, property owners intending to carry out any of the mentioned work must serve a notice on their neighbours, providing details of the proposed work. The neighbours then have the option to consent or dissent to the notice. If they dissent, a dispute arises, and the Act provides for the appointment of surveyors to resolve the matter.
The appointed surveyors have the authority to make awards, which are legally binding documents outlining the rights and responsibilities of the parties involved. The awards may cover various aspects, such as the time and manner of carrying out the work, the provision of safeguards to protect neighbouring properties, and the payment of costs.
The Party Wall Act has proven to be an essential piece of legislation throughout building history, offering a clear framework for resolving disputes and protecting the rights of property owners. It helps ensure that building work can proceed while considering the interests and concerns of neighbouring properties, promoting harmony and minimizing conflicts.