Once you’ve established that your works are covered by the Act the next step is to identify who the affected adjoining owners are. An ‘owner’ is defined in section 20 of the Act as ‘a person in possession of land, otherwise than as a mortgagee or as a tenant from year to year or for a lesser term or as a tenant at will’ or, in other words, the owner of the freehold and any tenants with an interest of greater than 12 months.
Where the adjoining property is a house with just a freehold owner it is relatively simple to identify them. If they are owner occupiers you may already know their names but as all joint legal owners must be named it is worth checking on the Land Registry database. It is surprising how often a property is owned by only the husband or a wife in a married couple (also, when you start cross referencing owners’ details with the Land Registry database you realise just how many people there are who, like William Bradley Pitt, go by their middle name).
Tenants with long leases can also be identified via the Land Registry database but unless you are familiar with the layout of the adjoining property it may be difficult to work out which owners are affected; especially if it is only party structure works that are being undertaken. For this reason, we prefer to serve notice on the adjoining freeholder initially but include a note in the cover letter asking them to make us aware of which tenants may be affected.
Tenants on shorter leases, greater than 1 year but less than 7, are more difficult to identify as the information is not publicly available. Standard practice is to assume that the agreements of any shorthold tenants are for 12 months or less (and therefore not notifiable) unless you are told otherwise. It is the fixed term that is relevant so if the tenancy is for 2 years but there is a break clause exercisable at 12 months they would not be deemed to be an ‘owner’ under the Act.
Sometimes the situation will arise where the leaseholders jointly own the freehold through a company – they’ll tend to be called things like ’10 Acacia Avenue Management Ltd’. It doesn’t change who needs to be notified (as each of the joint freeholders will also have a lease) but it would be reasonable to expect the owners to act as a group in that scenario. As mentioned above, we would serve on the freehold company initially and wait for their joint response. If the freehold company consent you could reasonably expect the leaseholders to do the same and if they dissent and appoint a surveyor I would suggest that the leaseholders should be comfortable with consenting in the knowledge that their concerns will be addressed in the freehold award.
If you live in the Cambridgeshire or north Essex area and need advice on identifying adjoining owners or any other party wall matter you are welcome to contact the author of this post on 01223 620755 or via email.