In January 2015, DCLG published an updated explanatory booklet. We have reviewed this document, making any necessary changes.
PWA 1996: a quick guide to what it is and what works it covers
A brief guide to the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (PWA 1996), explaining what it does and what works it covers.
This is one of a series of quick guides, see Quick guides.
What is the PWA 1996?
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (PWA 1996) provides a statutory framework (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739) to enable neighbours who share a boundary to carry out building works that involve (for example):
Building (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739) a new party wall on the boundary or a wall adjacent to the building owner's side of the boundary.
Carrying out works to an existing party fence wall or party structure (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739), including rebuilding a wall to a reduced height.
Building within three or six metres of the adjoining owner's walls or buildings if the works involve excavation works (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739).
Building or placing special foundations (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739) on the adjoining owner's land.
Who does the PWA 1996 affect?
The PWA 1996 affects neighbours who share a boundary. The PWA 1996 describes these as the building owner and the adjoining owner, where:
The building owner (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739) is someone who has a substantive legal interest in land and "is desirous of exercising rights under [the PWA 1996]" (section 20, PWA 1996). It can include an owner of the land, a reversioner, a prospective owner under a contract for purchase and a prospective tenant under an agreement for lease.
The adjoining owner (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739) is an owner or occupier of land (or, in the case of flats, a storey), with an interest greater than a yearly tenancy.
There can be more than one building owner and more than one adjoining owner.
Why do we need the PWA 1996?
The PWA 1996:
Is necessary because a building owner's building works can cause damage to an adjoining owner's buildings and interrupt the adjoining owner's own use and enjoyment of the party wall or structure.
Provides a dispute resolution procedure (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739) to protect the interests of the adjoining owner, while giving the building owner the rights it needs to carry out its works. This is usually achieved by a party wall surveyor making a binding party wall award (www.practicallaw.com/7-516-5148).
What are party walls, party fence walls and party structures?
Examples of a party wall (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739) include:
A wall that stands on the boundary between the building owner and the adjoining owner's land. The wall may be part of one building (such as a house wall that is also the boundary wall) or part of two separate buildings (such as the shared wall in a semi-detached house or a terraced row of houses).
A wall on the building owner's land, where the adjoining owner has a building that is enclosed by that same wall (for example, the adjoining owner's garage).
A party fence wall (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739) is a wall that stands on the boundary, but has no buildings attached to it. The classic example is a garden wall. However, wooden fences are not party fence walls.
The term party structures (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739) applies to all party walls and party fence walls. It also includes horizontal party structures (such as floors or ceilings) between, for example, two adjoining flats.
What are the building owner's rights and obligations?
Complying with the PWA 1996, such as giving the appropriate notice to the adjoining owner(s).
Carrying out the works to which the notice relates and starting those works within 12 months of the notice.
Going on to the adjoining owner's land to carry out its works, provided at least 14 days notice is given.
Exercising reasonable care when carrying out works and avoiding unnecessary inconvenience to an adjoining owner during the works.
Compensating an adjoining owner for damage to property caused by the works, including paying all expenses relating to the works.
If a building owner fails to comply with the PWA 1996, it will be deprived of the Act's protection (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739). Any damage or loss sustained by an adjoining owner is actionable in private nuisance and trespass. The building owner may also be in breach of its statutory duty.
What are the adjoining owner's rights and obligations?
The right to raise a dispute (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739) in response to the building owner's notice, which will trigger a requirement for a party wall surveyor to make a party wall award (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739).
A right to require the building owner (by way of a counter-notice (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739)), to incorporate additional works into the works. For example, deeper and stronger foundations, or works to underpin or strengthen the foundations of the adjoining owner's own buildings.
Not preventing the building owner from carrying out works that fall within the PWA 1996.
Allowing the building owner and its workmen access to its land (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739) to carry out work.
Contributing to the cost (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739) of the works (in certain circumstances).
Notice requirements under the PWA 1996
A building owner must give notice (www.practicallaw.com/8-383-5739) to all adjoining owners of any planned works. The notice requirements will depend on the type of works that are to be undertaken:
Building a new wall or party fence wall requires one month's notice, whether the wall will be on the boundary (www.practicallaw.com/6-512-0315) or entirely on the building owner's own land (www.practicallaw.com/7-512-5888) (section 1).
For a general overview of the law relating to party walls, you may also listen to Podcast, Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (www.practicallaw.com/7-514-7569), featuring Tim Reid, senior associate at Hogan Lovells, and author of Practice note, The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (PWA 1996).