What’s a party wall agreement?
Vail, CO, Colorado
It’s the party time of year. Eggnog, mistletoe, ham, turkey, cranberries, creches smelling of fresh straw and Hanukkah candles twinkling their ancient light. So I thought it a propitious moment to share a word or two about party walls and their kissin’ cousins, party-wall agreements.
Party walls really have nothing to do with the holidays or parties except perhaps in the most abstract sense. But in the same way (as Robert Frost observed) that good fences make good neighbors, good party walls make good duplexmates.
First, let me observe, that you can’t legislate away someone being a jerk. And a private contract ” that is, a contract between individuals ” is a form of legislation. Private contracts establish the rules and “laws” between parties. If a party to a party-wall agreement wants to be disagreeable and impose his or her foul moods upon the other party, then no matter how masterfully the party wall agreement is drafted, no matter how tight and unambiguous its terms, you may be in for trouble.
But what is a party wall and a party-wall agreement?
Imagine a typical duplex for a moment. While each is separate, connecting the two is a shared wall. That shared wall is the party wall, which is erected on the property boundary between the units and is owned in common by both the duplex units.
This, of course, creates some potential complications. If you both own the wall, then neither of you may affect it without the consent and cooperation of your neighbor. Say the plumbing running through that wall bursts in a cold snap. The parties must agree how, when, with whom and at what costs the pipe and damage should be repaired. If one of the duplex owners refuses to repair the damage, how can the other duplex owner obtain access to the plumbing, which is only half his and how can he compel the other owner to pay his or her fair share?
This is where the party wall agreement comes to the rescue. A party-wall agreement is a contract between the duplex owners that spells out the responsibilities of each as to how decisions are made, how impasses are resolved, how repair and maintenance costs are shared and often includes matters of aesthetics (for example, spelling out what colors the exterior may be painted.
Party-wall agreements also lay out under what circumstances one party has access to the other unit (generally, in the case of essential repairs), what insurance must be carried and by whom, how one party may enforce liabilities for payment of real estate taxes by the other and how one party collects payment from the other for expenses which are unpaid and due.
When a new duplex unit is constructed, the builder generally creates the party-wall agreement and records it with the county. When the buyers buy, they have the same rights and bear the same burdens that were originally imposed under the party-wall agreement. These rights and burdens “run with the land” and are in a sense attached to the property itself regardless of who the owners are.
Party-wall agreements may be amended or modified according to the mutual convenience of the parties. If they find that a provision of the agreement isn’t working for them, they may agree to change that provision and record it in the real property records of the county. If they cannot agree, a good party wall agreement will anticipate that and provide a mechanism to resolve disputes.
While a tight party-wall agreement most often nips disagreements before they become wars and lays out in clear and concise language what each party’s rights, responsibilities and recourse are, a jerk is still a jerk and will not be prevailed upon by the logic of the agreement, sometimes the only resort is going to court to untangle the dispute.
What party walls have to do with the holidays and parties is that it’s hard to be joyful when you’re at war with your neighbor. In this time of peace and forgiveness, perhaps putting away the slurs and bottle rockets may foster a little harmony and in so doing, may there be happy holidays to all and to all a good night.
Rohn Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He may be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 926-4461 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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