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I'm looking at sections 1(1)(b) and 20 of the Party Wall Act, and they just don't make sense to me, definitionally.

Problem #1: s.20 seems to provide an impossible or meaningless definition

s.20: “party fence wall” means a wall (not being part of a building) which stands on lands of different owners and is used or constructed to be used for separating such adjoining lands, but does not include a wall constructed on the land of one owner the artificially formed support of which projects into the land of another owner

The phrase excluding "a wall constructed on the land of one owner the artificially formed support of which projects into the land of another owner" could be read ambiguously.

  • IT EITHER MEANS: "a wall constructed entirely on the land of one owner (A), the artificially formed support of which projects into the land of another owner (B)";
  • OR IT MEANS: "a wall constructed partly - but not entirely - on the land of one owner (A), the artificially formed support of which projects into the land of another owner (B)"

The problem is, both of these are problematic, whichever is chosen.

  • If the first interpretation is correct, then the wall being excluded cannot ever have been a candidate party fence wall in the first place, because to even consider it as a party fence wall, the wall must stand on more than one person's land ("a party fence wall means a wall .. which stands on lands of different owners..."). No walls will ever be excluded if the first interpretation is correct. The clause would be meaningless.

  • If the second interpretation is correct, then we have the opposite problem. If it is intended to signify a wall constructed in part but not entirely on (A)'s land, then basic wall construction dictates that the wall's support will always project into another owner (B)'s land, because walls are supported under their full width. Every wall that could be a party fence wall will be excluded if the second interpretation is correct. The definition wouldn't cover any walls at all.

This is a quick sketch of the 3 ways a wall could be placed and supported near a boundary:

enter image description here

  • Layouts #2 and #3 aren't party fence walls because the wall itself is completely within the property boundary of B, so it doesn't "stand on lands of different owners".

  • Layout #1 can be a party fence wall, - but only if the exclusion clause has an ineffective/nullifying interpretation: "_a wall built on just one owner's land entirely/exclusively/only". If that's correct then no wall that looks like layout #1 ever gets excluded, so Layout #1 will always be deemed a party fence wall. (If we had made the alternative assumption, that it means "built partly but not entirely on an owner (A)'s land" then the Layout #1 wall is clearly built partly on (A)'s land and its support clearly projects into another owner (B)'s land, so Layout #1 could never be a party fence wall. In which case nothing could.)

What approach to reading the exclusion clause wording would allow it to have a sensible meaning, which presumably should exclude some walls but not others?

Note: I'm asking about the meaning in law of the legislative wording, rather than "what it might be believed or assumed to mean", as these could be completely different.

  • Could it be clarifying that, if the wall (excluding the support) is on one person's property, and the support crosses into another person's property, that's not a party wall? Otherwise, one might assume that this is a party wall, not realising that the support doesn't count as part of the wall. – Steve Melnikoff May 7 '18 at 10:37
  • That would exactly repeat the first clause which says a party fence wall stands on lands of different owners. Legislation pretty much never repeats itself for emphasis within a single-sentence definition. If that was the aim, they'd say something like: "... and a wall standing entirely within the property of a single owner, shall not be deemed a party fence wall by reason of a projection of its artificial support only, onto the land of another owner." (nb for clarity, a "Party wall" is not the same as a "Party fence wall") – Stilez May 7 '18 at 12:53
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The phrase in question is clarifying that if the wall (excluding the support) is on one person's property, and the support crosses into another person's property, then it is not a party fence wall.

Why make this clarification, given that if a wall doesn't stand "on lands of different owners", it can't be a party wall anyway?

Architect's Legal Handbook: The Law for Architects suggests that this is because there is a different rule for walls which separate buildings, hence the need to highlight the difference (emphasis mine):

...rights of adjoining owners do not arise where only the foundations project on the to the adjoining land if the wall concerned is a boundary wall, not being part of a building, but they do arise if such a wall separates buildings belonging to different owners.

  • This sounds promising. But I can't visualise an example from your brief quote. Could you add a simple example to the answer, so I can see the point it's getting at? – Stilez May 7 '18 at 15:14
  • I'm no expert, but my understanding is that if you have a wall like in Layout #2 above (wall on property A, support on both A and B): if it's a wall separating buildings, it's a party wall, and so the owners of both A and B may have certain rights and responsibilities; but if it's a wall separating land, it's not a party (fence) wall, so it's entirely the responsibility of B. – Steve Melnikoff May 7 '18 at 15:42

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