Good Walls Make Good Neighbours – But What if Those Walls Fall Down?
The Party Wall Act sets out a means for neighbours to resolve their differences without recourse to the courts. But what if that fails?
Getting into any kind of dispute is never a pleasant experience. But when it is with your neighbours, the stress level can really be ramped up, and it can have a major impact on everyone’s quality of life. When the Party Wall Act of 1996 came into force, the idea behind it was to provide a fair and equitable way for warring neighbours to come to an agreement without incurring legal costs or continuing a private war for months or years without end.
Of course, the Act can only go so far. It won’t help in as much as TV volume, noisy dogs or over-enthusiastic young footballers are concerned, but it does provide a logical procedure for what to do if either party is having work done that impinges the wall that forms a boundary between houses.
Most commonly, this relates to loft conversions, extensions and the like, and if you or your neighbour are contemplating this type of work, then it is essential to take party wall advice before you do anything else.
A fair solution
Let’s get one thing straight, in the vast majority of cases, neighbours get along fine, the party wall agreement is signed, the work is done and everyone lives in harmony. Of course, there are those occasions when things do not go so smoothly, for a whole host of reasons. Sometimes the neighbour feels the proposed work will cause damage to, or reduce the value of, their property, and on others, there is existing bad feeling that prompts them to object just for the sake of it.
The provisions of the Party Wall Act mean that even if you and your neighbour are completely at each other’s throats, there is no need to resort to legal action. Under the terms of the Act, the dispute is placed in the hands of an impartial surveyor, or a panel if surveyors. They examine the plans, hear each person’s view and form a decision that is final and binding.
What if something goes wrong?
This was a question that was raised in the High Court last year in the case of Lea Valley Developments Ltd vs Derbyshire. In this case, Lea Valley had submitted plans to construct new properties at 26-30 Muswell Hill. These would be adjacent to Mr Derbyshire’s Edwardian house at 32 Muswell Hill, a property he had divided into six apartments that were all let out to tenants. A Party Wall Award was made after a little back and forth negotiation, and the work proceeded.
Under the terms of the award, Lea Valley was liable for “any loss or damage which may result” to Mr Derbyshire as a result of the work carried out. In the event, the construction work caused so much damage to Mr Derbyshire’s property that it became necessary to demolish and rebuild it.
Under the terms of the Party Wall Agreement, Mr Derbyshire sought around £2 million, being the cost of demolition and rebuilding. Lea Valley argued that he should only be entitled to the overall diminution of value, which was around half this amount and commenced legal proceedings.
Mr Derbyshire argued that the court had no jurisdiction, as the Party Wall Act has its own dispute resolution provisions. Ultimately, however, the court found that this does not “exclude the power of the court to grant relief in appropriate circumstances” and Judge O’Farrell found in favour of Lea Valley.