In some circumstances, a wall or similar support structure will border, or extend across, two or more adjoining properties. This structure, called a party wall, creates certain rights and obligations among the adjoining landowners.
This article will briefly examine party walls, their creation, and the rights and obligations of the owners of party walls. If, after reading the article, you have remaining questions regarding party walls in Austin, Pflugerville, or Round Rock, contact the real estate attorneys at the Law Office of Farren Sheehan.
Party Wall Basics
A party wall is a common wall or structure between two connected buildings and/or properties of different owners. A party wall does not necessarily need to be equally on both parcels of land, and can in fact be entirely on one lot. Each adjoining owner owns his/her soil up to the property line and the portion of the wall on his property. It is important to note that adjacent landowners are not joint tenants of the wall, and instead follow a different and unique set of rules. The soil and portion of the wall owned by each tenant is subject to an easement in favor of the other landowner for the support and maintenance of the wall.
Establishing a Party Wall in Texas
There are no rights conferred at common law pertaining to party walls, as the rights are instead granted by statute or agreement. In Texas, party wall construction is regulated on the municipal level. Most commonly, party wall rights are created by agreement (i.e. contract) between the adjoining landowners.
Also, in some circumstances, these agreements can create covenants that run with the land and bind subsequent landowners. As with any real property covenant, the standard conditions for a covenant to run with land must be met to bind subsequent owners. Most importantly, the agreement must be in writing in order to run with the land. In some circumstances party wall rights can be conferred by a prescriptive easement. This requires continuous common use of a party wall for the prescribed period of time.
Rights and Obligations of Party Wall Owners
As party walls are generally created by agreement, the rights and obligations of the adjoining landowners will largely be dictated by that agreement. Where the agreement is silent on certain issues, certain rights and obligations are still conferred and imposed. For example, absent an agreement to the contrary, party wall owners possess the following rights and obligations:
- Each owner has the right to use the whole wall so long as the use does not unreasonably interfere with the property rights of the other owner.
- The wall is maintained at the mutual cost of both owners.
- Neither landowner has the right to destroy or remove a party wall without the consent of the other. However, a wall that is significantly damaged may be torn down and rebuilt by either landowner, with notice to the other.
- If a party wall is destroyed by natural causes, neither owner has an obligation to contribute to the rebuilding of the wall. Nevertheless, a non-contributing landowner may still use a wall that was rebuilt without contribution.
- Absent an agreement among the landowners to rebuild a wall, the easement against the adjacent lands ends when the wall is destroyed.
Actions and Remedies Related to Party Walls
As with other contracts, party wall owners may bring actions against each other for breach of the agreement. Suits most commonly arise over the destruction of a wall or regarding modifications to the wall, such as adding windows. In certain circumstances, an owner may seek to enjoin an adjacent landowner from destroying or modifying a party wall if they can show that irreparable harm will be suffered as a result of the action.
For example, Texas courts have found that an injunction is appropriate when one party wall owner attempts to add windows to a party wall that was originally contemplated and agreed upon to be a solid wall. The owner’s loss of the protection afforded by a solid wall was sufficient to show irreparable harm.
Questions? Contact Sheehan Law Today
Navigating many aspects of real estate law, including party walls, can be a complex process, requiring the help of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney. At Sheehan Law, PLLC, our attorneys fit the bill. They can help you understand the laws governing your property, review your contracts, and provide you with the counsel you need to move forward. To get started with an initial consultation, call us today at (512) 251-4553, or fill out our online contact form with your questions.