A party structure is the term used to describe the wall, hedge or fencing which is on, or close to, the boundary between two properties. It is essentially the structure that creates the physical division between two properties.
A party wall/structure may be either on your neighbour’s property or on the boundary which divides your property and your neighbours. It is generally the case that the adjoining property owners jointly own the party structure and neither of them can make an independent decision to alter or remove the party structure.
In the past party structures were problematic, particularly when it came to the maintenance and carrying out of repairs. The 2009 Act addressed party structures and sought to clarify and streamline the law in this area. The law now entitles a person to carry out work to the party structures such as alterations, repairs and maintenance, decoration, replacement and strengthening; subject to terms and conditions.
Costs and Compensation
If you cause damage to your neighbour’s property while carrying out work to the party structure, you must repair the damage or if the neighbour carries out the repairs himself pay for the cost of the repair work. If a property owner carries out work to the party wall and fails to repair any damage to his neighbour’s property, the law allows the neighbour to apply to the court for an order to compel the damage to be fixed.
You must cover the costs of professional advice sought by your neighbour regarding the likely consequences of the works you intend to carry out and reasonable compensation for the inconvenience caused to your neighbour. Compensation might be relevant if the works to the party wall or structure cause disruption to the neighbour’s business.
If the works you are going to carry out will be of benefit to your neighbour you may be able to claim a contribution from them or reduce the amount of compensation payable to them to reflect the benefit s/he will gain in the enjoyment of his property because of the carrying out of the works.
The difficult neighbour
A neighbour might refuse to allow works to be carried out or obstruct the carrying out of works to the party structure. Prior to the 2009 Act a situation like this might well have escalated into a long and lingering row between two neighbours. Now, however, the Act has introduced a procedure that can be activated through the District Court which lets a judge decide on the situation.
“The Works Order”
The 2009 Act now caters for a dispute arising between neigbours about a party structure. The person who wants to carry out the work can apply to the District Court for what is known as a “Works Order”, or in other words, permission to go ahead with the work. In these circumstances the court can impose any terms and conditions that it sees fit when making an order authorising the work – the Court will take into account the individual circumstances of each case. To protect the neighbour whose property will be affected by the carrying out of the work the property owner may be required, by the Court, to give security for any loss or damage that might arise as a result of the work. This could take the form of a lodgement of money which will pay for any damage caused to the neighbour’s property.
The Court can make an order entitling the property owner who intends to carry out the work access to his neighbour’s property for the purposes of carrying out the work.
The provisions in the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 pave the way for a more straightforward and streamlined method for dealing with party structures. It is still important to bear in mind that the best way to approach any changes to party walls/structures with your neighbours is to discuss the changes first and to aim to carry out any works with their understanding and consent.