Serving documents under the party wall act

Image of postbox

Many disputes between owners, and a large proportion of appeals against Party Wall Awards, are caused by notices and other documents either not being correctly addressed, or not being correctly served.

Under section 15 of the Party Wall Act there are two sets of rules for serving notices and other documents. Sub-section 1 applies to all people, but sub-section 2 applies only to an “owner of premises”.

It should be borne in mind these are not mandatory provisions; a notice may be served using the methods below, but does not have to be. For example, it is at least theoretically possible that for a notice to be served by email if it can be proved that it was in fact received. However, the safest course of action is to use one of the methods below, as this will avoid any debate about whether service has been effected.

Rules for Everyone

Under sub-section 1, which applies to everyone, notices and other documents can be served as follows:-

In the case of an individual, trustees of a trust, or the partners of a partnership:

  • Handing it to them in person;
  • Sending by post to their usual or last-known residence
  • Sending it by post to their usual or last-known place of business

In the case of a limited company, PLC, LLP or other type of corporation:

  • Delivering it to the secretary or clerk at its registered or principal office; and
  • Sending it by post to the secretary or clerk of that body corporate at that office

Rules for Owners of Premises

The second set of rules in sub-section 2 apply only to those that own “premises”. The term “premises” is not defined in the 1996 Act.

It will certainly include those that own a freehold or leasehold, but it probably does not include tenants under assured or assured shorthold tenancies or other occupiers of land.

Under sub-section (2) notices and other documents may be served, in addition to the methods above, by:-

(a) addressing it “the owner” of the premises (naming them), and

(b) delivering it to a person on the premises or, if no person to whom it can be delivered is found there, fixing it to a conspicuous part of the premises.

There is a conflict in the language used in this sub-section. The sub-section requires that the notices must be addressed to “the owner” but also requires that it name the owner. This provision could be interpreted two ways:-

(a)    Cumulatively; that is, it must be addressed to “the Owner, Mr Bloggs”; or

 (b)   Alternately; that it, you may address it to either “Mr Bloggs” or “The Owner”, or both.

On the strict language of the section the cumulative interpretation would appear to be correct. However, it could be argued that this sub-section was intended to deal with circumstances where the owner of the premises is not known, for example if the land is unregistered.

The safest course of action would be to address it to “The Owner, Mr Bloggs” as this would be correct for both interpretations, whereas addressing it to only “The Owner” or “Mr Bloggs” is at least arguably incorrect if the cumulative interpretation applies.