Loft Conversions and the Party Wall Etc Act 1996

Andy Garwood’s excellent short article in the Estate’s Gazette (5 October 2013) misses, with respect, one vital element – the Party Wall Etc…..Act 1996.

Andy Garwood, who is managing director of BeSure Building and Maintenance Services writes a succinct and hugely informative article, which lists the following important points:

  • Not every home is suitable for a loft conversion (eg it may be be physically impossible to install another staircase)
  • Most conversions can now be done without planning permission, but if any extension to the roof space is proposed, planning may be needed
  • A 50m2 (538 square feet) loft extension may typically cost in the range £30,000 – £35,000.
  • The choice of the right builder is paramount:
  • Can the builder show you a loft extension he has completed locally?
  • Is the builder a Member of the Federation of Master Builders?
  • Is the builder a Member of the Contractor of Health and Safety scheme?
  • Is the builder a Member of ConstructionLine?
  • Only ever convert a loft if your home will be enhanced.
  • Do not sacrifice an existing bedroom to create a loft extension.

However these works of alteration and extension, while they may be wholly desirable to the building owner (the person proposing to do the work), they may strike fear and apprehension to neighbours (applies to terraced and semi-detached houses).  My recommendation is that, where neighbours are likely to be affected, immediately open a dialogue with the neighbour(s) before a contractor is appointed.

The building owner should explain ‘face to face’ what are the proposals and then follow these broad principles:

  • Offer neighbours the assistance of the Party Wall etc…. Act 1996.
  • Try and agree with the neighbours to use one surveyor, an “agreed surveyor” in order to save costs.
  • Do not suggest someone, who has obviously designed or planned the proposed work as he/she may not be seen as impartial by a neighbour.
  • Avoid surveyors who canvas for Party Wall work.  These are statutory appointments and it is improper, in this surveyor’s view, for these appointments to be canvassed.

The fees should typically be in the region of £950 to £1,250 plus VAT per side for an agreed surveyor, but these fees are a good investment, albeit it is the building owner who pays the fees.

A party wall award contains, typically, a Schedule of Condition of those parts of the neighbour’s property, which may be at risk from the proposed creation of the loft extension (e.g. the adjoining roof space or existing loft room in a neighbour’s house).

A party wall award, when it is made and served, should be retained with the title deeds of that property.  When either property is then subsequently sold, the award is there to assist surveyors advising would be purchasers.  The detail of the work carried out some years before is there for all to see.

Efforts by building owners to try and bypass or short cut the ’96 Act more often than not end in acrimony, tears, anxiety and permanent ill feeling between neighbours not to mention having ‘unknown works’ carried out a shared party wall, which might jeopardise the value of both properties in the future.


Michael Tibbatts MRICS is a member of Pyramus & Thisbe the Party Wall Surveyors Club and is an experienced party wall surveyor