What Is a Party Wall?

In real estate terminology, a party wall is a shared wall that separates two separately rented or owned units. Party walls are most commonly found in apartments, condominiums, hotels, and office complexes, where different tenants will share a common structure.

Party walls can be a non-structural wall, but laws in various jurisdictions outline requirements for how party walls must be constructed and to what specifications.

Key Takeaways

  • A party wall is erected to separate tenants that cohabitate a multi-unit residential or commercial property.
  • The exact specifications of the party wall's structure will often be determined by local or state law.
  • Individual properties will often maintain a party wall agreement acknowledged by all relevant parties.
  • Specifications may include privacy features like soundproofing, as well as safety features such as fire-retardant insulation.

Understanding Party Walls

Party walls are intended to ensure that different tenants of a multi-unit structure are able to maintain privacy and quiet enjoyment of use of the property. As such, party walls are sometimes built with additional insulation so that sound from an adjoining unit does not disturb neighbors.

In addition, some building codes require party walls to be built as fire walls, with noncombustible material extending from the foundation to the roof. If a fire occurs in one unit, a fire wall helps to slow the spread of the fire into adjoining units. Not only is this safer for tenants, but it also helps to contain fires and limit property damage.

The traditional party wall principle says that each owner acquires title to one-half of the wall, and each owner also is granted an easement for the support of the structure.

Party Wall Agreements

A party wall agreement stipulates rules around ownership and maintenance obligations for a shared wall. The goal of a party wall agreement is to obviate disputes between parties. In addition to shared walls, a party wall can also refer to one attached and adjacent to the property, walls belonging to a single building structure, dividing walls between adjoining units, and those standing on the land of two or more owners.

A party wall agreement between adjacent owners is an invaluable tool for business owners, in particular, so they can avoid expensive litigation over disputes. These agreements define which party is obligated to maintain the wall, as well as the repercussions if the wall is not maintained. Typically, a party wall agreement requires the owners to maintain their portion of the wall consistently and harmoniously.

Such agreements will stipulate rules regarding a party’s rights to alter the wall. For instance, an agreement might say that both parties can hang pictures on their respective sides of the wall. The agreement might also stipulate, however, that for one party to make structural changes to the party wall, it would require the consent of both parties.

Once owners legally consent to the terms, party wall agreements are recorded in applicable land records, usually at the County Clerk’s Office. By including the party wall agreement in the County Clerk’s records, prospective buyers can understand the property they are considering purchasing.