Has a child ever asked you how Santa fits down the chimney? Has this ever made you wonder who would be liable if the chimney stack collapsed and your party wall was damaged in the process?! If so, continue reading this article for an overview on party walls and how to make sure your Christmas stays merry.

A party wall is a wall shared by two adjoining properties. The Party Wall Act 1996 applies to properties in England and Wales and was implemented to assist in preventing and resolving disputes between owners in relation to their party walls. The Act also contains provisions that prevent any building works from being carried out which could compromise the structural integrity of the party wall.

Under the Party Wall Act, if an owner of a property wishes to carry out any works to a party wall, then the Act provides that they must first serve a party wall notice on the adjoining property owner, advising them of the works due to be carried out and the date these works are due to begin.

Notice is required to be served on the adjoining property owner at least two months prior to the works commencing. Once notice has been served on the neighbouring property, the owner will have fourteen days to respond either consenting to the works, serving a counter notice to request additional works, or rejecting the works. If a response has not been received within the fourteen day period, then it will be considered that a dispute has arisen and a party wall surveyor will need to be appointed to resolve the dispute. In some circumstances owners can agree to the appointment of a joint surveyor, if not, then each owner will need to appoint their own surveyor. The surveyor will then draw up a party wall award which will set out the works that are required to be undertaken.

If works being undertaken to the party wall result from a defect in the wall, or essential repair works need to be carried out, then the costs of these works can be shared between the owners.

However, if works are being carried out, and the party wall is damaged, or if damage occurs to the wall through recklessness of one of the owners, then the liability for any repairs will lay with the owner who is having works carried out, or who has caused the damage.

If a chimney stack is on/within a party wall, then the Party Wall Act will also apply, and each property owner will be liable for the repair and maintenance of their half of the chimney. If one property owner wishes to remove their half of the shared chimney then they will be required to serve the necessary two month notice on the neighbouring property, however, if both property owners are in agreement to remove the shared chimney, then notice does not need to be served. Again, if one property owner damages the chimney stack then they will be liable for the relevant repairs to be undertaken. So, if your chimney stack is a party wall feature, you may want to direct Santa to the front door instead!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.