If you live in a semi-detached or terraced property and are planning on converting the loft, you must comply with the Party Wall Act. This involves giving your neighbours advanced notice about your project and reaching a party wall agreement with them.
But don’t worry if that sounds a bit daunting. The Party Wall Act isn’t a major obstacle in building a loft extension. It is a necessary evil and one that you do have to be mindful of. But it shouldn’t delay or derail your project.
Regulations and red tape
Unless in a detached property, all loft conversions in the UK must comply with the party wall legislation. They must also comply with the building regulations, but as loft conversions fall under permitted development, they do not normally require planning permission. But back to those party walls.
What is the Party Wall Act?
Briefly, the legislation requires that anyone carrying out work involving shared walls must give their adjoining neighbours notice of their project.
Which, after all, is only fair and only what any decent neighbour would do anyway.
Unless you can’t stand the people next door to you of course – but we’ll get to that shortly.
The Party Wall Act also applies to boundary walls, garden walls etc., but in regard to loft conversions obviously relates to the walls shared by neighbours (owners, lease-holders and long-term tenants) of a semi-detached house or on both sides of a terrace.
At this point it should be stressed that the Party Wall Act is completely separate from planning permission and the building regs.
And, even If you have approval from building regs for your loft conversion, you must still comply with the Party Wall Act.
The good news is that it isn’t that much of a hassle. Not compared to everything else you’re going through anyway.
Why do loft conversions need party wall agreements?
When you convert the loft, the new structure has to be supported. The usual solution here is for the builder to install a new steel beam from party wall to party wall. The Party Wall Act ensures that any work you do won’t negatively affect the neighbour’s property.
This is obviously important when we’re talking about structural changes. Which is why you must serve notice on your neighbour and have their consent to the work.
Your rights under the Party Wall Act
The Act basically allows you to work on a party wall. For example:
To cut into the wall to support a load-bearing beam.
To demolish and rebuild the wall. Warning – forgetting to put the wall back may result in neighbours wandering freely through your home.
To increase the height and/or thickness of the wall.
To insert a damp proof course through the wall.
How do I give notice to my neighbours?
Firstly, discuss your project with your neighbour. It is far better to find out if they have any objections now – before you serve notice.
This will enable you to amend your notice if necessary and can also smooth the waters for when you serve the notice. Talking to your neighbour before handing them the notice should pave the way for them to give their consent to you quickly and without problems.
Can I do a party wall notice myself?
In theory yes you can. But in practice? I wouldn’t recommend it.
You can draw up the notice yourself. There are official forms, but you can find examples here (LINK). Whatever form it takes, your notice must be in writing and you must ensure it includes:
Your own name and address (both spouse’s if co-owners).
The address of the property you will be working on.
A description of your loft conversion project including plans if you wish.
The date that work will begin.
A letter of acknowledgement for your neighbour to sign.
You can then either post the notice to your neighbour or, a better idea, take it round personally and deal with any queries there and then over a cup of coffee.
Tip – it may not be a good idea to serve the notice on a neighbour if your teenage kids and fifty of their mates have just held an all-night barbie and rave in the back garden. Let them catch up with their sleep first!
If the property next door is empty, address your notice to the owner and pin it to the door.
So, to get back to the question, yes you can do a party wall notice yourself.
However, you should hire a specialist party wall surveyor – your builder will probably recommend one or may include this as part of their package fee. And as you need a surveyor anyway you may as well engage him/her to draw up and serve the party wall notice.
The reason for this is because of what could happen once your neighbour reads the notice.
Party wall agreements and disputes
When your neighbour receives your party wall notice they have three options:
1 – Consent / agree to the work taking place.
2 – Dissent to the work but agree to use your surveyor.
3 – Dissent to the work and will appoint their own surveyor.
Hopefully s/he simply gives their consent in writing and off you go. End of story. Although it would still be prudent at this stage for your surveyor to make a condition report should issues arise during or after the build.
But if your neighbour disputes/disagrees with or ignores your notice and fails to give written consent within fourteen days a dispute is deemed to have arisen.
It may simply be that the neighbour doesn’t agree with the wording or minor details of your notice. In that case, under the Party Wall Act, they can serve a counter-notice detailing their objections which you then have another 14 days to come up with another written notice agreeable to all.
If your neighbour dissents, and whether they want to use their own surveyor or not, at this stage your surveyor must compile a condition report. This report will be consulted should the neighbour make any claims of damage during the build.
By the way, I should point out that irrespective of whether your neighbour decides to use your surveyor or opts to bring in their own, YOU have to pay the fees.
What happens next is that the surveyor(s) produce an award document which details the neighbours (and your own) rights in regard to the party wall and your responsibilities for the work that will take place.
If it’s just your own surveyor involved, drawing up the document will be straightforward. However, if two surveyors are involved disagreements can arise. In this case a third surveyor is brought in to mediate.
This all sounds very complicated but if you have consulted fully with your neighbour prior to serving the original notice then hopefully there’ll be no problems getting the required written consent. Just remember to keep copies of all written notices.
OK, that’s all very well but….
I can’t stand the old battle axe next door.
Believe me. I know the feeling. But don’t panic. A neighbour who you think may object to your loft conversion through spite cannot just scupper your plans by using the Party Wall Act.
As long as you do things properly there won’t be a problem. There may even be some smug satisfaction when the neighbour-from-hell realises s/he can’t stop the work. See our advice on party wall act disputes for more info.
How much does a party wall agreement cost?
This is going to be painful. You could be looking at between £1,000 to £2,000. Fees will naturally vary between regions and whether one, two, or three surveyors are involved in the process. Your specialist loft conversion builder may include these fees as part of your package.
When do I give notice to my neighbour?
You must serve your notice at least two months before you plan to begin work. If you fail to begin work within a year of serving the notice you will need to go through the whole process again.
It should be noted that there is no enforcement to serve the notice under the act. So, what’s the point?
Well, if you start work without serving notice to your neighbours they can obtain a court injunction to stop the work and could even have grounds to claim financial compensation.
As always, the advice here is to do things properly and by the book. Serve that notice on your neighbour and don’t run the risk of your loft conversion running into difficulties.