Tricky situations can arise where there is more than one owner of land or buildings that are subject to the Party Wall Act, as it may not be possible to locate all of the owners. Can a notice be served if only one of the building owners is available? What happens if all of the adjoining owners have been identified, but one of the joint owners cannot be traced?
[pullquote_right]Any notice served by a building owner should be addressed to, and served on, each adjoining owner[/pullquote_right]In the case of Crosby v Alhambra Company Limited the High Court decided that the building owner need only serve one of two joint adjoining owners for the notice to valid. That case was decided under section 5(3) of the London Building Act 1894, in which the term “adjoining owner” was defined as “the owner or one of the owners”.
“Adjoining owner” is defined in section 20 of the 1996 Act as “any owner … of buildings, storeys, or room adjoining those of the building owner”.The key omission here is that the phrase “or one of the owners” is no longer included. It therefore doubtful that Crosby is still good law, which means that any notice served by a building owner should be addressed to, and served on, each adjoining owner.
Difficulties can also arise where the building owners’ property is held by more than one person. In the case of Lehmann v Hermann a notice was served on behalf of one of two joint owners of the building owners’ property. The Court found that this notice was invalid, because the phrase “building owners” means all of the building owners acting together, not just one of them.
Although that case was decided under earlier legislation it is possible that the Court will apply the same meaning to the phrase “building owner” under the Party Wall Act.
Those serving notices under the 1996 Act must be careful to ensure that notices are served on behalf of all joint owners of the building, and are served on all joint owners of the adjoining buildings.