Any sort of house extension these days seems to be a popular alternative to selling up and moving house but few people think about what their neighbours might think about it all. If you are thinking of carrying outloft conversions in your terraced house attic, then it certainly pays to find out what your legal obligations are before you start work.
Loft conversions are ideally suited to older styled terraced houses, because they usually have roofs that are angled steeply upwards with an already existing attic or loft just underneath. These old lofts were draughty, dark and too small to use for living space and usually ended up being a waste of space or served as a large cupboard for all the old kids’ toys and clothes that nobody wanted anymore, vinyl records and all sorts of other junk. Converting these spaces into liveable spaces gives them a new lease of life and some great new bedrooms or bathrooms for the family.
As long as the house has an adjoining neighbour – and most terraced houses will have at least one, then loft conversions and basement conversions too, will affect the neighbour in so much as there may be modifications to the common structure that separates you from them.
This common structure – the wall or walls that separates the two adjoining houses is called a “party wall” and the legal provisions that control what you can do to it are called the “Party Wall Act”. The act was designed to protect the rights of each set of neighbours from any thing which either did that might damage the common structure, but it also set out certain obligations that permit one or other of the parties to make those modifications.
Normally, you would be working with a qualified architect, house extension designer, or directly with a builder. It will be the first thing that these people do to sort out obligations under the Party Wall Act.
The obligation is no more than giving notice in writing to the neighbours that some work is going to commence which affects the common wall. There is no specific form or paperwork that the council has available for this, so it is up to you to do this yourself in what is called a “party structure notice.” You have to include your own name(s) and address, the name(s) and address of your neighbour or neighbours, the type of work that is going to be done – a brief description is sufficient – and the estimated dates of commencement and completion. Just note that if the neighbouring residents are only tenants in a rental house, then the notice of intent has to be addressed to the legal owners – the landlords.
There is a tendency when your neighbours are well known to you and you speak to them frequently to assume that a verbal mentioning of the work is sufficient. This is not the case – even if you know your neighbours well and are quite friendly with them, make sure that your legal obligations are carried out.