If the type of extension you are soon to build is deemed notifyable under the 1996 Party Wall etc. Act, then you are obliged to serve notice to the relevant neighbours. Not doing so carries expensive, stressful risk.
Firstly, by not serving notice, you are not protected against fraudulent claims should the neighbour later come knocking on your door. A schedule of condition is an independently written report produced by a party wall surveyor, documenting the state of repair of the adjoining owners’ property. It serves as a baseline against which an observer can take a ‘before and after’ reading of the condition of a property, and therefore assess if any damage has been caused in the adjoining home as a result of building work you have undertaken.
Without this such a baseline, you have zero protection against fraudulent claims of damage made by the neighbour. The neighbour may have for instance, been suffering from a leaky roof for months prior to your works commencing, and buy not serving notice and producing a schedule of condition, you have provided them with an opportunity to get it fixed using your money. Without documentation, it is your word against theirs.
Related to that, the second risk of not serving party wall notice to your neighbours, is to leave yourself open to maliciously exaggerated claims of damage. Say, for instance, the scaffolders are heaving up scaffold poles in the back garden, and accidentally let one slip, breaking three tiles on the neighbour’s kitchen roof.
By the time your neighbour has whipped on his dressing gown and marched over to your front door, three broken tiles have mysteriously transmuted into a totally shattered roof, a smashed up ceiling and a wrecked lighting circuit which has somehow caused the boiler to pack in and inexplicably burnt an iron-shaped hole in his carpet. Without a baseline schedule of condition, it is on you to prove otherwise, and under common law (beyond the confines of the Party Wall Act) you are obliged to put right any damage caused.
Thirdly, failure to serve notice puts you on the back foot with a neighbour in the know. If you fail to serve a party wall notice when it is due, your neighbour will have earned the right to question other aspects of your project, such as the quality of tradesmen on the job, the location of the skip on the road, the noise nuisance caused by constant drilling, the dust kicked up by demolition, and so on. Don’t give your neighbour the opportunity to stick their nose into your affairs; it will only wind you up and slow work down.
Fourthly and more importantly, you risk creating bad blood in your relationship with the neighbours. You may currently enjoy a healthy, courteous relationship with your neighbour. They may hold a spare key, take a delivery for you when you’re not in and are always on hand to watch over your home whilst you’re away. These privileges and others like them can quickly disappear when neighbours feel short-changed by not being told of your plans in advance.
Fifthly, you risk being taken to court if you do not serve party wall notice to neighbours prior to the commencement of works. Your neighbour is at liberty to appoint a Solicitor and take out an injunction to stop your project in its tracks. The legal fees are yours to cover and a stoppage could be very costly if the Builder seeks to chase you for loss of income incurred as resulting from a stoppage.
In addition to facing heavy costs you face serious impact to your timeline; the beautiful kitchen you hoped to cook turkey in for the family this Christmas, won’t now be ready till barbeque season. Although more painful than the time and cost involved in an injunction, is the mental torment of being dragged through the courts at a time when your patience and resilience is already being tested as you live through a building project in your home. It is not a battle you want on your hands.
Those are the 5 big risks you bare if you do not serve party wall notice to the neighbours prior to starting building work. Hopefully you agree that it would a sensible move to appoint a professional Party Wall Surveyor to steer you through party wall matters. You can find a local surveyor by searching online at Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or the Faculty of Party Wall Surveyors (FPWS). Or better still, ask your Architect for a recommendation.
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