Problems Arising from Access Under the Party Wall Act

Saturday, 22nd June 2024 | by: Justin Burns

This is the last in a series of posts covering the rights of access granted by the Party Wall etc. Act 1996.  Today I’m going to look at what happens when things don’t go to plan.

I’ve always been surprised at just how robust the Act is in terms of ensuring that a building owner can take advantage of their rights of access. The main purpose of the Act is to facilitate development, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised but, it’s still wild to think that a builder can ‘break open any fences or doors in order to enter’ an adjoining property.

Here’s clause 8(2) of the Act in full:

If the premises are closed, the building owner, his agents and workmen may, if accompanied by a constable or other police officer, break open any fences or doors in order to enter the premises.

It’s important to reiterate that this situation only arises if the adjoining owner does not allow access despite being given the requisite 14 days’ notice in writing. In these days of overstretched public services, it may not be easy to find a police officer who has the time to attend site and, as they almost certainly won’t be aware of the right, I’d recommend having a copy of the Act to hand when making the request.

I’d also recommend doing as little damage as possible and recording the event in case there is a dispute. Although the clause refers to breaking open fences, in reality a panel can usually be carefully removed and set aside for reinstatement.

It’s good practice to confirm the duration of access when serving notice under Section 8 but it’s not mandatory. If there is a dispute, the surveyors may stipulate the duration of access in the award but, either way, it can only be an estimate as external works will always be weather dependent.

If the estimate proves to have been optimistic, the adjoining owner should be informed as soon as possible. The adjoining owner could dispute the need for the period of access to be extended on the basis that they are suffering unnecessary inconvenience but it’s a difficult one to prove.

What happens if an adjoining owner’s property gets damaged during a period of access? If there is an award, the surveyors should have included safeguards to try and avoid that situation arising but, if it does, the procedures are the same as when damage is caused by work on the building owner’s own land i.e. depending upon which aspect of the notified works caused the damage, the building owner must either make good or compensate the adjoining owner for the loss of damage. Any disputes relating to damage should be referred to the appointed surveyors.

If you live in the Cambridgeshire or north Essex area and require advice relating to rights of access under the party wall act, or any other aspect of party wall procedures, you’re welcome to contact us on 01799 543532 or via email.

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