Having drafted your party wall notices the next step is to serve them – we say ‘serve’ rather that ‘deliver’ or ‘post’ as they are legal documents and the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 includes strict rules on how adjoining owners must be notified.
The first task is to try and establish the name(s) of the adjoining owner(s). The most straightforward method will be to download title registers for the adjoining property as that will include the name(s) of the owner(s) and an address for service. However, there are still some properties that are unregistered and the Land Registry database takes several weeks to be updated following the sale of a property.
If it’s not possible to establish the owner’s name, the Act offers an alternative, the notice can be addressed to ‘the owner’, but that has a bearing on the method of service (see below)
Section 15 of the Act offers 3 acceptable methods of service and a possible fourth. Let’s consider each of them in turn.
Service by Post
The Act requires notices to be posted to the adjoining owner’s ‘usual or last-known residence or place of business in the United Kingdom’. In the majority of cases those will be the details on the property’s Title Register, however, if you know that the correspondence address on the Title Register is out of date and you have the current address you should use that one as it is the ‘last known’.
You should not send by recorded mail as if the recipient is not at home to receive you cannot be sure that the notice has been validly served. A better option is to take the letter to the Post Office and ask for proof of service (which is free). Even if the letter gets lost in the mail the fact that you can prove it was posted is sufficient proof of service. Where notices are served by first class post they are deemed have been received 2 days later so that’s the date from which you would start counting the time during in which a response is required.
Service by Hand
Notice can also be handed to a person on the premises. It doesn’t matter whether the recipient is the owner or merely an occupier but it is important that it’s placed in their hand as pushing the notice through the letterbox is not an acceptable method of service. When notice is served in this way, I would always recommend making a note of the name of the person who has received it.
Attaching the Notice to a Conspicuous Part of the Property
There will occasionally be situations where it’s not possible to establish the name or correspondence address of an adjoining owner and there is nobody living at the property to receive the notice by hand. In that scenario the notice can be fixed ‘… to a conspicuous part of the premises’. No further details are given in the Act but we would normally take this to be the front door. I’d recommend attaching the notice with something that’s not going to cause damage (Blu-Tack or low tack tape), covering it with a waterproof pocket if exposed to the weather and taking two photos; one close enough to read the details and another sufficiently far back to show the notice in context.
Service by Email
The Act was amended in 2016 to clarify the position in respect of serving documents by email. The key principle is that this method of service can only be used with prior agreement by the recipient. That limits its usefulness in terms of serving notices, especially for surveyors, but if you have an email address for the adjoining owner you could email them in advance to ask for confirmation that they are happy to receive the notice electronically.
Having validly served your notices it’s now just a matter of waiting for a response.
If you require advice on serving party wall notices or any other stage of party wall procedures please don’t hesitate to call us on 020 8546 7211 or drop us an email.