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What is a party wall?
A party wall is a wall that is a shared boundary between two adjoining properties. Terraced houses and semi-detatched houses have party walls with their attached neighbours.
The Party Wall Act 1996
The 1996 Party Wall Act is designed to protect property owners from undergoing damage as a result of alterations made to adjoining buildings.
It is a common misconception that this only includes alterations to a party wall (the wall shared by both properties), but in fact the scope of the Act is much wider and can apply to adjacent excavations as well. In this context, the word 'adjacent' applies to excavations within three or six metres of the boundary, depending on how deep the excavation work goes (deeper digs will increase the distance from the boundary that can be considered 'adjacent').
If the owner of an adjoining property is planning building work that is included in the Party Wall Act, then notice is required to be addressed to you at your home address where possible or to 'the Owner' and pinned to the (adjoining) property in a prominent position and not posted.
Development work next door
It is important that you find out about any work that may affect your property to give you ample time to inspect the proposed work. You may even need to appoint a surveyor in certain circumstances, in order for you to be as confident as possible that your property is not being placed at risk. It is vital that you take action early when your property is placed at risk by a neighbour's development works, as your landlord insurance may not protect you if the problem was caused on another person's property.
Depending on the type of work being undertaken and the type of notice required, adjoining property owners might be given either one or two months' notice. The adjoining owner is given fourteen days to grant consent to the works in the first instance, but if nothing is heard from the adjoining owner then the developer often assumes that there is no objection and begins work regardless. This assumption is not one that will be made in the eyes of the law, however, as not replying to the notice will be taken as a sign that you are dissenting and (subsequently) you must appoint a surveyor. A surveyor will prepare a party wall agreement.
What to do when you haven't granted permission for party wall works
If your neighbour has begun work covered by the Party Wall Act without first obtaining your permission, you have a number of options open to you.
You can ask them to stop work while you appoint a surveyor or you can apply for an injunction (if the notifiable part of the work is not yet complete, as injunctions cannot be made retrospectively). Obviously it would be better for everyone involved if you just received the notification at the appropriate time.