The Party Wall Etc Act 1996 and Chimney Breast Removal – The Facts

A good way to increase space in an older property is to remove a chimney breast, particularly if the room is constrained in size. Once you have considered the merit of removing an original feature of the property and have come to terms with the inevitable disruption that will result, your thoughts must turn to the technical and legal considerations associated with this work.

Structural Considerations and the Building Regulations

It is important to note that the chimney breast is an important structural element of the building, typically built of masonry and in many cases extending up the full height of the building, providing essential support to the chimney at roof level. The implications could be disastrous if the work is not approached correctly.

Therefore, whether you are taking out the entire chimney breast or just a small part, it is essential that the effects that this work will have on the adjacent structure are fully considered.

In a terraced or semi-detached property, or a flat, the structural considerations may affect adjoining property owners, and their interests must also be accounted for – more on that later.

Building Regulations approval is required for such structural adaptations. As part of the process of gaining approval, a Structural Engineer’s advice will be required. The Structural Engineer will consider the effects of the proposed works and will design/specify appropriate measures to safeguard the integrity of the surrounding structures. They will provide supporting calculations which will form part of the document pack submitted for Building Regulations approval.

Building Regulations approval documentation will be required when the property is sold in future, to prove to a prospective purchaser that the relevant due diligence has been carried out in relation to the chimney removal works.

Many people forget or choose not to get Building Regulations consent for this type of work. You must appreciate that trained surveyors carrying out a future building survey of the property for a prospective purchaser will pick up on the removal of chimney breasts. They will direct their clients towards obtaining proof of relevant statutory approvals for such work before they commit to the purchase. By acting appropriately at the time of carrying out the work, a good deal of potential disruption to the smooth progress of a future sale of the property can be avoided.

Neighbour Agreement and The Party Wall Etc. Act 1996

If the chimney stack/breast is a shared structure sitting on or astride a shared or party wall, or forming part of a shared structure within a block of flats, it is likely that the provisions of The Party Wall Etc. Act 1996 will apply.

The Act covers work proposed to a party wall, of which the removal of a chimney stack or chimney breast structure is specifically covered. This means that any Building Owner contemplating such work must adhere strictly to the procedures set out in the Act. Find out what would happen if they ignore the party wall act.

Most importantly, the party wishing to carry out the work must serve notice correctly, in an appropriate form, and a suitable period of time in advance of commencing the work. In the case of a shared chimney structure, the Act provides that at least  two months’ notice should be given.

In a leasehold property, the proposed removal of a chimney breast will also require Landlord’s consent, as well as a Party Wall agreement.

The purpose of the Act is to ensure that the rights of all parties are considered and provided for in respect of the proposed works. In some cases, an Adjoining Owner cannot stop the works from taking place, but they may be able to influence what work is carried out, and how it is to be undertaken.

Essentially, the work should only take place once full consultation has taken place with all parties that are identified as legitimate Adjoining Owners under the Act, and whereby appropriate Party Wall Award agreements have been put in place.

Any party contemplating this work must consider the following:

  1. Although a minimum two months’ notice is required under the Act, the Adjoining Owner(s) have a right to appoint a surveyor to administer the Act on their behalf. Subsequent discussions and exchanges of information between surveyors may mean that the minimum notice period is exceeded.
  2. There may be situations where multiple Adjoining Owners are involved. This could further draw out the process of reaching agreement under the Act.
  3. If you are the party carrying out the proposed works, you normally bear the costs of your Adjoining Owner’s surveyors, as well as third party consultants (such as Structural Engineers) in certain situations. In cases where there are multiple Adjoining Owners, the costs could be significant.
  4. Landlord’s consent may not be forthcoming, regardless of whether agreement with other Adjoining Owners can be reached.

Getting the right advice

As detailed from our simple summary above, this is a potentially complicated process which has implications from a technical, legal and financial viewpoint.

Therefore, when contemplating work of this nature, it is essential that you engage with a suitably skilled and experienced professional. A Chartered Building Surveyor will carry the relevant technical skills required to evaluate the proposals, advise upon the correct course of action about technical approvals, legal procedures, and the correct application of The Party Wall Etc. Act 1996.

At Trinity Rose we have a team of RICS Chartered Building Surveyors and provide advice to both Building Owners (wishing to undertake works under the Party Wall Etc Act 1996), and Adjoining Owners who are served with notices from their neighbours.

Our technical expertise enables us to quickly get to the heart of the matter and liaise effectively with third parties, ensuring the correct application of the Act and resulting in thorough, accurate and well-considered Party Wall Award agreements.

Of course, the Act reaches far beyond work to chimney breasts and is a complex legal instrument.  If you have any questions on this subject and would like to speak to a member of the team, do get in touch.