As we live and work in increasingly close proximity to one another, more of us are sharing walls with neighbors or even strangers. Many conflicts have arisen over a shared wall, fence or row of hedges that one neighbor believed was infringing on their land.
Shared or common walls – also known as “party walls” – are walls that separate two separately owned properties. They can be between two businesses in a commercial building, between two townhouses or condominium units or they can separate property owned by two homeowners.
People who live in condo and townhouse communities typically give little thought to their shared walls (except when they’re not thick enough to keep out the neighbors’ music or screaming infant). The wall (indoors or outdoors) is part of the structure and typically the responsibility of the homeowners’ association or property management company.
If you’re considering buying a house that shares a wall with the neighbors, you should find out whether there’s a party wall agreement (PWA) in place. Homeowners often don’t consider getting a PWA (or even know what one is) unless there’s a dispute over it or a lender requires a PWA for a homeowner to refinance their mortgage.
What do PWAs cover?
Having a PWA in place before you need it can save a lot of trouble. It typically covers things like:
- Responsibilities for maintenance of the wall
- How expenses for repair or replacement issues will be shared
- What alterations require the consent of both parties
- Whether the PWA automatically transfers to new owners when the property is sold
- The consequences for breaching the terms
You may also need to include a clause about any easements – for example, if the wall is fully on one property owner’s side even though it’s shared by both owners.
While PWAs aren’t typically legally required, if you negotiate one with your neighbor or inherit one from a previous owner, you need to be sure that it is legally sound. There’s little point to it if it won’t hold up in court.
Whether you’re reviewing a PWA as a prospective new homeowner, you’re having issues with your neighbor over your current PWA or you believe it’s time to get one, it’s wise to have experienced legal guidance.