Party Walls in Ireland
Everything about party walls: what they are, who is responsible, how to avoid a legal dispute
Party walls can be a nightmare: even to decide if a wall is a party wall or a simple boundary wall can be challenging, especially in Ireland where an inconclusive boundary system is used by the PRA (Property Registration Authority, also known as Land Registry). For now, it suffices to say to that if the boundary line is within the wall (i.e. the wall 'straddles' the boundary line), then it is a party wall and if it is entirely on one prperty, then it is often referred to as a boundary wall. It is also a helpful hint that if if you have access to both sides, then it may not be a party wall. It is quite easy to decide when it is the wall between two houses in a semi-detached or a town house: these are almost always party walls. A little more investigating is necessary in gardens and fields. A simple diagram is as follows:
In Ireland, it is a relatively recent legislation, the Land Conveyancing Act 2009, which defines party walls as a wall 'straddling' a boundary. It oftens happens that as engineers, we must check if a wall, or some kind of works falls on which side of the notional line between properties. Due diligence requires that following a check of the deed map for the house for the correctness of the boundaries or the PRA issued original folio plan if the property has been migrated to the PRA already, we must establish on site if the works are wholly confined within the 'settled' or 'accepted' boundaries either side. If any works affect what is perceived/settled/accepted party wall on site, then establish if the party wall is per defined in the Land Conveyancing Act 2009, ie. walls straddling a boundary. The main reason for this is the inconclusive boundary system which operates in Ireland, in which on site, established, physical boundaries take precedent over boundary lines in the registry operated by the PRA.
A typical extract from a standard PRA issue legal map is shown below, in bold red, it states: "do not rely on this map other than roughly identifying where it is".
It is interesting to note it here, what legal status a building owner may have:
In terms of effect of those boundaries, the legal status of building owner is as per Land Conveyancing 2009 3 types of ownership is (3).
(1) Outright ownership – where the boundary is owned outright by one landowner, for example, the wall between two parcels of land is located entirely within one parcel.
(2) Divided ownership – a party structure may be divided longitudinally where each adjoining land owner owns their 50% share up to the central medial line. Each owner may do as they wish with their structure provided they do not damage or cause the collapse of the other owner's structure.
(3) Divided ownership with mutual rights of support – this type of ownership is similar to divided ownership above, but each share is subject to a right of support owned by the other owner, known as a cross-easement.
In my opinion, the majority of party walls fall into the category of divided ownership with mutual rights of support (cross-easement) which is (3). Of course, due diligence dictates us to establish if this is indeed what is interpreted on site between the parties.
The neighbour is defined as per Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 “as meaning the owner of any estate or interest in the building or unbuilt on land adjoining that of the building owner”.
All of the above is very useful when investigating and surveying in order to prepare a Declaration of Identity, which I will discuss in another document.
Engineers and surveyors are also often called up to help the building owner understand what they can and cannot do to a party wall. This should explain as briefly as possible.
The following works are not required to obtain planning permission but requires neighbour's consent:
- Adjustment, alteration, cutting into or away, decoration, demolition, improvement, lowering, maintenance, raising, renewal, repair, replacement, strengthening or taking down
- Finding out the course of cables, drains, pipes, sewers, wires or other conduits and clearing, renewing, repairing or replacing them
- Cutting, treating or replacing any hedge, tree or shrub
- Clearing or filling in ditches
- Carrying out inspections, drawing up plans and performing other tasks required for, incidental to, or consequential on any of the works above
The following is not required to obtain neighbour's consent, and may or may not require permission from authorities, such as planning permission, and please make sure to emphasize to the building owner that entitled is not the same as permitted and for example in a protected building they may be entitled to do work but that the work may need to be permitted first by the local conservation office:
You are entitled to carry out works on a party structure in the following circumstances:
- Works that are required in order to comply with any statutory provision, for example, the requirements of the Building Regulations
- Exempted developments under the Planning Acts (developments for which planning permission is not needed), or developments for which you have planning permission or which are required in order to comply with the conditions of a planning permission
- Works required for the preservation of the party structure or of any building or unbuilt-on land of which it forms a part
- Any other works that will not cause substantial damage or inconvenience to your neighbour, or that even if they will cause damage or inconvenience, it is nevertheless reasonable to carry them out
What happens if you carry out work without the neighbour's consent?
If you carry out works on or near the party wall without the neighbour’s consent, you may be open to a claim of trespass as well as nuisance arising from any inconvenience caused by the works. You should seek the fully informed consent of the neighbour before commencing any works. If agreement can be reached, this could be written down so the terms of the consent and the works are clear to both parties and you should not go outside of what is permitted by such consent.
The final note is an interesting and controversial topic of shared drains.
Engineers should also check and establish drains on site: an example for overground drains, for example gutters or RWG's (rain water goods) which are typically at a front or rear elevation of the property, there is often a downpipe exactly at the boundary between two houses. I took this photo on a survey recently, which shows exactly this situation:
As per In Section 43-47 of the above Act, this pipe is, even if it is located on the neighbour’s property, it is in the building owner's ownership as it is an integral part of the building. The pipe in the ground, to which it is connected, is likely to be in the ownership of the neighbour, not the building owner if it runs in the neighbour's site, but its maintenance would be the joint responsibility of those whose properties it serves unless an alternative agreement or arrangement is in place. This applies to a number of other pipes, for example water pipes, foul pipes, etc. that are likely to be located in the ground and serve these houses. The situation on older roads is typically such that pipes are crossing boundaries and going across gardens. Consideration should be given if a comprehensive CCTV inspection should be carried out and talks initiated to cover possible repairs subject to agreement by the affected landowners.
Overall, party walls require more consideration and because of the nature of inconclusive boundary system, they need to be also established on site, not just on paper. Once established, rights and liabilities are quite detailed in the legislation and remedies if one landowner does not consent to required works are also well detailed and even allow application for court orders in absentia (in the absence of) of the nay-saying landowner. Party walls must also be clearly marked on maps and brough to the attention of the building owner. Working, repairing, modifying party walls and drains on party walls and in some cases on neighbour's properties can be tricky business and it is always best to proceed by initiating contact with the neighbours and documenting whatever agreement is reached.